Limits of drag augmentation at spacecraft end-of-mission, and a mitigation strategy

Kerr, Emma and Macdonald, Malcolm (2021) Limits of drag augmentation at spacecraft end-of-mission, and a mitigation strategy. Astrodynamics, 5. pp. 109-120. ISSN 2522-0098 (

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An increasing number of objects are being launched into low-Earth orbit. Consequently, to avoid the possibility of future in-orbit collisions space object removal techniques are receiving attention. As one of the most developed techniques, drag augmentation is increasingly being considered as an option for end-of-mission removal of objects from low-Earth orbit. This paper highlights a common misconception around drag augmentation: although it can be used to reduce de-orbit time, when used inappropriately it can increase the volume swept by an object and, thus, increase the occurrence risk of collision with another space object. Knowingly ignoring this increased risk of collisions could leave spacecraft operators, and consequently their responsible state party, open to liability risk. By investigating the volume swept and de-orbit lifetime, a strategy of delayed deployment is proposed as a compromise between reducing volume swept and time to de-orbit. However, this increases system complexity and, likely, cost.