Science

‘Pulling Sail’ to De-Orbit Satellites Gets $750,000 Seed Funding

The “braking sail” concept to help de-orbit space debris has just received a cash injection.

The Spinnaker concept for de-orbiting small satellites has received $375,000 in seed funding from investment firm Manhattan West, which NASA will provide as part of its SBIR Phase II-E Enhanced Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) contract.

The $750,000 pooled funding will bring Vestigo Aerospace’s product line to commercial production, Purdue University said in a statement. (will open in a new tab)first sales are expected in 2023. (This technology is licensed from Purdue.)

The money comes from multiple discussions in the US space community about space debris in recent weeks, including a new pledge to address the growing problem from the FCC and Biden administration policy.

On the subject: Removal of space debris is not going smoothly

“The Spinnaker line of drag sails meets the growing need for a reliable end-of-mission deorbit capability … to maintain low Earth orbit stability,” David Spencer, founder and CEO of Vestigo, said in a statement. “Bolt dredges represent an ‘ounce of prevention’ approach to the orbital debris problem that, if left unchecked, could halt the growth of the orbital economy.”

While the technology is in its early stages, Vestigo was really eager to test its Spinnaker3 concept in orbit. However, this prototype was destroyed during the debut test flight of the Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket, which ended in an explosion shortly after liftoff in September 2021.

Once in service, the drag sail should be available for deployment on satellites, whether they are operational or not, Vestigo said. “Sail throwers can be deployed on command or with a back-up timer, providing a reliable deorbit capability even if the main ship is down,” the release says.

Spinnaker is not the only drag sail. The first spacecraft demonstrating similar active debris removal technologies was launched from the International Space Station in 2018, and China tested its own drag sail in 2022.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or facebook (will open in a new tab).

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