Concept-of-operations disposal analysis of spacecraft by gossamer structure

Macdonald, Malcolm and McInnes, Colin and Bewick, Charlotte and Visagie, Lourens and Lappas, Vaios and Erb, Sven (2015) Concept-of-operations disposal analysis of spacecraft by gossamer structure. Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets. pp. 517-525. ISSN 0022-4650 (

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A gossamer structure for end-of-life disposal of spacecraft to mitigate space debris is considered in comparison with other end-of-life disposal concepts to determine when it would be preferable. A needs analysis, potential use cases, and concept-of-operations are developed. A survey of disposal strategies is presented for comparison prior to a down-selection of viable competing techniques; solar sailing, high and low-thrust propulsion, and electrodynamic tethers. A parametric comparison of the down-selection competing techniques is presented. Exploiting solar radiation pressure on the structure is of limited value. Atmospheric drag augmentation was found to be of most benefit for end-of-life disposal when an entirely passive means is required, allowing the gossamer device to act as a ‘fail-safe’. This is applicable to only low and medium mass spacecraft, or spacecraft that are unlikely to survive atmospheric re-entry, hence minimizing risk to human life. It does not significantly alter the operating ceiling altitude but does the maximum allowable end-of-life mass. Peak mass benefit occurs in the altitude range 550 – 650 km and is largely independent of de-orbit time.