Minimize InflateSail


System Design    Spacecraft    Launch    Mission Status   References

The InflateSail 3U CubeSat of SSC (Surrey Space Centre) at the University of Surrey, UK – is one of the technology demonstrators of the QB50 mission. The InflateSail nanosatellite is equipped with a 1 m long inflatable boom and 10 m2 deorbiting sail. InflateSail's primary goal is to demonstrate the effectiveness of using a drag sail in LEO to increase the rate at which satellites lose altitude and reenter the Earth's atmosphere. A system like this could be fitted before launch to any satellite bound for LEO, and then used at the end of the satellite's life to remove it from orbit, and prevent the satellite from being involved in any potentially disastrous debris-creating collisions in the future. 1) 2)

The InflateSail project is being funded by two European Commission FP7 (Framework Program Seven) projects: DEPLOYTECH and QB50.

SSC is leading a team with DLR, Airbus Defence and Space (formerly Astrium SAS), SSTL , RolaTube, Cambridge University, TNO, CCGSS and others — to develop a low cost deorbiting demonstration mission. An improved, inflatable based sail called "InflateSail" is being developed at the University of Surrey with Astrium as the industrial partner as a generic, scalable deorbiting solution for any size/mass of satellite/launch vehicle upper stage and is proposed to be flight-tested as a CubeSat in-orbit demonstrator in the QB50 program. While orbiting in LEO the sail will use drag to decelerate the spacecraft, thus decreasing its altitude and its orbital velocity.

The objective of DEPLOYTECH is to develop 3 specific, useful, robust and innovative large space deployable technologies:

• 3.3 m diameter inflatable sail – Inflatesail – Surrey/Astrium

• 4 m x 2.2 m BRC booms – RolaTube/Surrey

• 14 m solar sail booms - DLR

The aim is to develop these technologies from a current TRL (Technology Readiness Level) of 2-3 to 6-8 within the 3 years of the proposed DEPLOYTECH project.


Figure 1: Illustration of the InflateSail 3U CubeSat with 1 m long inflatable boom and 10 m2 deorbiting sail (image credit: SSC)


System design:

The InflateSail nanosatellite is a drag deorbiting demonstration mission, built on a 3U CubeSat platform. In its launch configuration, approximately 1U is dedicated to the bus electronics (EPS, OBC, ADCS, and communications) and the remaining 2U is divided between the inflatable mast and the deorbiting sail payloads.

A single deployable panel opens at one end of the satellite, and the inflation of the boom pushes out the sail deployment mechanism to position it away from the body of the satellite. This "jack-in-the-box" deployment method avoids some of the complexity of a multi-panel opening design, and results in a satellite with solar cells facing in multiple directions. However, this approach requires a more complicated internal structure consisting of very smooth inwards-facing walls, and a linear guide system to allow the top of the inflatable to move inside the satellite structure without twisting or rotating.

The 10 m2 sail deployment mechanism is derived from the system described in Fernandez et al. 3), while the inflatable mast was developed specifically for InflateSail.

Inflatable mast subsystem:

The inflatable mast consists of a cylindrical boom with two end fittings, an inflation system, and facilities to feed wires through the mast to the sail deployment system. An exploded view of the subsystem is shown in Figure 2 and a break-down of all components is presented in Figure 3.


Figure 2: Exploded view of the inflatable boom subsystem in its stowed configuration (image credit: SSC)

Cylindrical boom: The inflatable cylindrical boom is constructed from an aluminum-polymer laminate , with an internal Mylar bladder to improve airtightness. The 1 m long boom is folded using an origami pattern, and fully stowed occupies merely 63 mm in height (Figure 4).

End fittings: The end fittings ensure an airtight connection to the boom, and provide a feed-through for the wiring. The bottom end fitting also contains an inlet (2x) for the inflation gas, a pressure sensor, and a solenoid valve. The normally-open valve vents air during launch ascent, and provides controlled venting of the inflation gas after the boom deployment. The pressure sensor monitors the internal boom pressure during inflation.

The end fittings seal the internal bladder and the aluminum-laminate skin separately. This approach was found to improve airtightness, and minimizes loads on the internal bladder. The internal bladder is sealed using two concentric O-rings, and the laminate is held in place by wrapping it around a PTFE (Polytetrafluorethen,Teflon) ring which is compressed using the end plates.

Inflation system: The N2 inflation gas is stored using CGG (Cool Gas Generators). A dual CGG setup is used for redundancy, and provides the option of topping up the internal pressure in case of unexpected leaks.


Figure 3: Component tree for InflateSail; the inflatable mast components discussed in reference 1) are highlighted (image credit: SSC)


Figure 4: The inflatable cylindrical mast in its stowed (left) and fully deployed (right) configuration (image credit: SSC)

Membrane material:

The inflatable booms are constructed of a thin aluminum-polymer laminate: the aluminum layers provide structural stiffness after deployment, while the polymer layer increases toughness.

Strain rigidization: The creases introduced during the folding process will affect the mechanical properties of the boom once it is deployed. The residual creases can significantly reduce the effective material stiffness by deforming as a plastic hinge, and the boom strength will decrease due to imperfections which trigger local buckling. In order to recover the stiffness and strength of the inflatable boom, the creases will therefore be removed using strain rigidization. This is achieved by increasing the pressure in the cylinder until the aluminum layer in the skin deforms plastically, thereby permanently flattening the creases (Figure 5).


Figure 5: Residual creases after depressurization from different inflation pressures (10–70 kPa), image credit: SSC

Mechanical properties: The laminate material used for the EM tests consists of three layers: two 14.5 µm aluminum layers sandwich 16 µm of Mylar and adhesive. The thickness of the layers was measured from a micrograph of the cross-section. The mechanical properties of the laminate material directly affect the performance of the inflatable boom in its deployed state. The elastic modulus determines the boom stiffness (although any residual creases will significantly lower the effective modulus and the flexural rigidity affects the boom strength as it buckles locally under compression or bending loads.

Measuring the mechanical properties of the thin laminate films proved to be challenging. The tests were performed using a standard Instron tensile testing machine, and an effective elastic modulus of 15–25 GPa was found for the laminate. This implies a Young's modulus of 20–35 GPa for the aluminum layers, which is significantly lower than the expected value of 70 GPa. What is more, literature suggest that some thin aluminum foils may exhibit unusually low elastic moduli. The source of the low measured elastic modulus is being investigated, and until the issue has been resolved, a standard value of 70 GPa is assumed for the analysis. The yield stress is more reliably found, and was estimated to be approximately 50 MPa for the laminate material.

The flexural rigidity was measured using the heavy elastica method. By measuring the deflection of a cantilevered strip of laminate under gravity, the flexural rigidity can be estimated. The aluminum-polymer laminate was found to have a flexural rigidity of 5.6 x 10-4 Nm. This allowed the Young's modulus of the aluminum foil layers to be estimated at 68 GPa, supporting the hypothesis of unidentified error sources in the tensile tests.

Boom folding method:

Several methods for compactly folding inflatable cylindrical booms have been developed. For the InflateSail project the inflatable boom will be folded using an origami pattern. Here the developable cylindrical surface is formed into flat facets separated by fold lines; the facets pop through into the cylindrical form at the end of inflation. A primary reason for the selection of an origami pattern for packing the inflatable boom is the open cross-section in the stowed configuration. This allows for rapid dispersal of the inflation gas from the CGG, and enables fast deployment of the boom. Moreover, origami booms have been shown to combine compact stowage with straight-line deployment.

Fold pattern selection: The family of origami patterns selected for folding the inflatable boom is shown in Figure 6, and is fully defined by its geometric parameters n = 5, ϕ1 = 67º, H=R = 0:67 and R = 90 mm. The repeating layer is therefore 60.3 mm in height, fixing the boom length to integer multiples of this value. In its fully stowed configuration the diameter of the circumscribed circle is 90 mm, and the open cross-section is at least 35 mm in diameter.


Figure 6: The fold pattern selected for the inflatable boom (left), with the cross-sectional view of its fully folded configuration (right), image credit: SSC

The geometric richness of the origami patterns enabled various design trade-offs. The primary selection criterion was the minimization of material deformation during deployment, which was shown to be linked to straightness of the boom deployment. The deployment strains are characterized by the number of circumferential folds n and the reverse fold angle ϕ1. A combination was selected which minimizes material deformation for the initial deployment phase, while providing a second undeformed configuration at approximately 70%deployment.

Decreasing the bay height of the pattern (H/R) reduces the tip rotation during deployment, but will also result in a greater number of folds in the boom membrane. In turn, this increases the packaged height and might impact the mechanical properties of the deployed boom by leaving more residual creases in the boom membrane. In the selected pattern, only four folds meet at each vertex, helping to minimize the risk of pin-hole punctures due to the high local curvatures at the vertices (the inflatable bladder was later added to the design, to ensure airtightness of the inflatable boom). In its stowed configuration, the boom is circumscribed by a 90 mm diameter circle, preventing the folded boom from protruding beyond the end fittings, and the large internal space (≥ 35 mm inscribed circle) accommodates the solenoid valve used to vent the inflation gas after deployment.

Manufacturing process: The origami folding of the inflatable boom is challenging; the limited boom diameter precludes manually supporting the material from the inside, and the aluminum-polymer laminate does not allow reversal of folds. A novel manufacturing method (Figure 7) was therefore developed:

I) First, the cylindrical boom is assembled. The bladder and aluminum-laminate are cut from flat sheets and wrapped around a cylindrical mandrel before being sealed using transfer tape. The end fittings are then attached, taking care to ensure accurate alignment of the fitting so the boom deploys straight from the CubeSat.

II) A stiff plastic sheet is scored with the desired fold pattern, and manually folded so the creases become flexible. The folded plastic sheet is then flattened, wrapped around the pressurized boom, and held in place using masking tape.

III) The pressure inside the cylindrical boom is lowered by opening the solenoid valve, and the pressure is automatically maintained at a set value. The pressure should be high enough to press the laminate material flush against the plastic mandrel, but low enough to allow the boom to be gradually folded, using the plastic mandrel as a guide.

IV) After folding the boom the plastic sheet is removed and the boom compressed is to its stowed dimensions (Figure 8).


Figure 7: Manufacturing and folding process: I) assembly of cylindrical boom, II) the plastic master sheet wrapped around a pressurized boom, III) gradual folding of boom while maintaining a low internal pressure, IV) removal of mandrel to reveal the origami-folded boom (image credit: SSC)


Figure 8: A 105 cm long boom folded to~6 cm (the allowed vertical height for the folded boom in InflateSail), image credit: SSC

Inflation system:

In laboratory tests inflation of the deployable mast has been achieved using compressed air. However, the flight model of InflateSail will be inflated using a CGG (Cool Gas Generator) developed by TNO and CGGSS (CGG Safety and Systems BV), both located in The Netherlands. The Cool Gas Generator is an innovative way of storing gas by chemically binding it in a solid propellant. After ignition a self-sustained reaction passes through the grain and releases the gas at ambient temperature. The remainder of the propellant is left behind in the CGG.

Two types of Cool Gas Generator have been tested in space. Four CGGs, each producing 40 liter of nitrogen at 1 bar and 273 K, have been on board the ESA PROBA- 2 satellite since 2009, and eight miniaturized CGGs, each producing 0.15 liter of nitrogen at 1 bar and 273 K, have been flying on board the Delfi-n3XT (Delfi Triple CubeSat NeXt) mission of TU Delft since November 2013. To date, two generators on board of each satellite have been fired with excellent results.

The CGG, designed for InflateSail, is of a completely new design, and produces 3.2 normal liter of nitrogen gas (3.9 gram±5%). One of the main goals has been to avoid a pyrotechnic classification. To this end the CGG is equipped with an innovative resistance wire igniter, developed by TNO. Another innovation is the use of stainless steel as a construction material, instead of titanium (used for the other space qualified CGGs). Stainless steel is easier to machine and has lower material cost, but is also slightly heavier than titanium. Furthermore, the CGG is designed to be modular: its length can be adjusted to decrease or increase the amount of gas produced, without changing the ignition system or the aft part of the CGG with the gas exit. Due to these unproven innovative features, two CGGs are mounted on board InflateSail for redundancy reasons.

The CGG itself is cylindrical with a diameter of 16 mm and a length of 90 mm ,including flying leads (Figure 9). The igniter is mounted on the top, while the gas outlet is at the bottom. The CGGs will be mounted in the satellite by a clamp band. A ring on the circumference of the CGG can be used to fix the CGG inside the clamp band. After the ignition signal is given, the igniter will be powered and after a few seconds the CGG will start releasing gas. The CGG propellant is isolated from the outside atmosphere by means of a breaking foil, which ruptures when sufficient pressure is built up. The burning profile is such that 90% of the gas will be released in about 6 seconds, with 99% within 60 seconds after activation. The InflateSail boom is inflated directly from the CGG, and no further gas flow control is implemented.

The rapid release of inflation gas was an important design driver for the design of the inflatable boom, and the selection of the origami folding method to stow the boom.


Figure 9: Datasheet for the InflateSail CGG (image credit: CGGSS)

Deployment testing:

To verify the functionality of the InflateSail design, a dimensionally accurate engineering model of the satellite was constructed, and numerous deployment tests have been performed: both in ambient conditions (Figure 10) and in vacuum (Figure 11). These tests were also used to verify the repeatability of the folding process, the airtightness of the deployed boom, the manner of the deployment (twisting or rotation once outside the body of the satellite), and the effect of the seam on the straightness of the deployed boom.


Figure 10: Deployment test of inflatable boom with gravity compensation. The buoyancy of the balloon was adjusted to counterbalance the weight of the top fitting (image credit: SCC, CGGSS)


Figure 11: Deployment test of inflatable boom in vacuum chamber (image credit: SCC, CGGSS)

Feasibility of design: Functional tests have confirmed that it is possible to construct and fold aluminum-polymer laminate booms of 1 m length and compress them to a height of approximately 6 cm (Figure 8) including end fittings. The boom has never been observed to fail to exit the satellite body and deploy to its full length. The walls of the satellite and two linear guides constrain the deploying boom to push almost straight out. The inflation pressure required to push the top of the inflatable out of the satellite has been observed to be relatively small (≤5 kPa). Any slight hindrance to deployment is quickly overcome by the resulting build-up of pressure in the boom. Consider that, at a final inflation pressure of 55 kPa, the inflation gas exerts a force of 350 N on the end fittings.




The InflateSail satellite will consist of a mix of COTS (Commercial-Off-The-Shelf) and custom components. The majority of the electronic components selected are COTS. This minimizes risk, and allowed the focus of development to remain on the payload. The 3U CubeSat is divided into two main sections: approximately 1U is reserved for the avionics/ electronics stack, leaving 2U for the inflatable and sail payloads. 4)


Figure 12: Illustration of the InflateSail nanosatellite prior to sail deployment (image credit: SSC)




TRL (Technology Readiness Level)

GPS receiver

In QB50 ADCS Stack

VKI, Brussels, Belgium



QB50 stack

Stellenbosch University(ZA), SSC (UK)


EPS (Electrical Power Subsystem)

NanoPower P31u

Gomspace, Aalborg, Denmark



UHF downlink / VHF uplink
Full Duplex

ISIS (Innovative Solutions In Space), Delft, The Netherlands



Crossed Dipole (UHF/VHF)







Solar cells (x 20)

Triple Junction Solar Cell
Assembly 3G28A

Azur Space, Heilbronn, Germany


Motor controller




Pressure sensor board




Power switch board




CGGs (Cool Gas Generators)

4 g N2 gas




283831 (brushless)

Maxon Motor, Sachseln, Switzerland


Motor gearhead


Maxon Motor


Sail support booms

BRC carbon tubes

SSC/RolaTube Ltd., Surrey


Sail membrane




Inflatable skin

Aluminum-Kapton laminate

Multek Foils (US)


Table 1: InflateSail main subsystems and components

Spacecraft mass (3U CubeSat)

3.2 kg

Sail surface area

10 m2

Inflatable mast length

1 m

Approximate time to deorbit (following sail deployment)

5-20 days

Spacecraft volume (before inflatable and sail deployment)

34 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm

Spacecraft volume (after inflatable and sail deployment)

128 cm x 330 cm x 330 cm

Estimated mission duration

≤ 1 month

Uplink frequency and downlink frequency band


Downlink data rate

9.6 kbit/s

Table 2: InflateSail main parameters

The ADCS (Attitude Determination and Control System) unit was designed and developed by the Electronic Systems Laboratory (ESL) at Stellenbosch University and SSC at the University of Surrey specifically for the QB50 project to meet the attitude control and stability requirements of the QB50 science missions, which were to maintain the pointing of the science payloads within 10º of the flight direction, and to provide attitude knowledge to better than 2º precision in all axes. Table 3 gives the specifications of the unit.

Sensors and actuators


Range/ Field-of-View

Error (RMS)


3-axis magneto-resistive

±60 µT

<40 nT

Sun sensor

2-axis CMOS Imager



Nadir sensor

2-axis CMOS Imager



Coarse sun sensor

6 photodiodes

Full share


Rate sensor

MEMS gyro



Pitch momentum wheel

Brushless DC motor

±1.7 mNms

<0.001 mNms


Ferro-magnetic rods and air coil

±0.2 Am2

<0.0005 Am2 (remanence)

Table 3: ADCS unit specifications

Fifteen ADCS units were officially supplied to the QB50 project, and it is now available commercially from Stellenbosch's spin-out company, CubeSpace. The full QB50 ADCS unit (Figure 13) comprises:

• CubeSense

• CubeControl

• CubeComputer

These include:

• CMOS Camera Digital Sun Sensor (fine Sun Sensor)

• CMOS Camera Digital Earth Sensor

• 6 Photodiode-based Course Sun Sensors

• Micro-Electro-Mechanical-System (MEMS) Gyro

• 3-Axis Magnetoresistive Magnetometer

• 3-Axis Magnetorquer (2 Rods + 1 Air Coil)

• Pitch-Axis Small Momentum Wheel (MW)

• Optional GPS Receiver (Novatel OEM615)

• Extended Kalman Filter (EKF) Control software + SGP4 Orbit Propagator.


Figure 13: QB50 ADCS Unit (image credit: Cubespace)

For InflateSail, a cut down version of the ADCS unit was flown to save volume. The pitch-axis momentum wheel and CMOS cameras were therefore removed, and instead, attitude knowledge was derived from the course Sun sensors, 3-Axis magnetometer and MEMS gyro. The GPS receiver was not fitted, however the magnetorquers were left as actuators for any attitude control needed prior to ADR payload deployment (e.g. for de-tumbling).

Figure 14 shows the InflateSail 1U Avionics Stack with and without the VCB photographed during Assembly Integration and Testing (AIT). Figure 15 shows the complete Flight Model (FM) 3U spacecraft.


Figure 14: Avionics Stack Showing (top-to-bottom): QB50 ADCS Stack (before removal of the GPS and Pitch-Axis MW), GOMSpace EPS P31u with 20Whr Battery, ISIS TRXVU, ISIS Antenna Module and External 3-Axis Magnetometer; (right) Top View Showing the Valve Controller Board (VCB) and the Deployed ISIS Dipole Antennas (image credit: SSC)


Figure 15: InflateSail 3U CubeSat Ready for Flight (image credit: SSC)


Launch: The InflateSail nanosatellite (QB50 GB06) was launched on June 23, 2017 (03:59 UTC) as a secondary payload on the PSLV-C38 vehicle in XL configuration of ISRO from SDSC (Satish Dhawan Space Center), India. The primary payload on this flight was CartoSat-2E (~712 kg), the sixth satellite in the Cartosat-2 series (total launch mass of ~955 kg). 5) 6) 7)

Orbit: Sun-synchronous near-circular orbit, altitude of 505 km, inclination = 97.44º, LTDN (Local Time on Descending Node) at 9:30 hours.


Secondary payloads: 30 satellites (co-passengers) with a total mass of 243 kg):

The 29 international customer nanosatellites were launched as part of the commercial arrangements between Antrix (Antrix Corporation Limited), a Government of India company under DOS (Department of Space) and the commercial arm of ISRO and the International customers.

The Dutch company ISISpace (Innovative Solutions In Space) of Delft accommodated most of the secondary payloads aboard the multi-satellite launch (responsible for manifesting a total of 23 satellites on this particular launch). Engineers stowed the CubeSats in QuadPacks before shipping them to the Indian launch site. 8)

Among these 23 satellites, there are 8 CubeSats that will complement and complete the QB50 constellation for upper atmospheric research ( This project, sponsored by the European Commision's FP7 is managed by the Von Karman Institute from Belgium and ISISpace has been one of the consortium partners of QB50 since the start. The CubeSats launched by ISISpace into polar orbit will work together with the CubeSats deployed from the International Space Station in May.

The ISILaunch19 manifest also includes several payloads that were initially scheduled for a launch on a Falcon 9 mission through Spaceflight's Sherpa mission, a launch that was significantly delayed due to various factors. ISL and Spaceflight have jointly worked on re-manifesting these payloads to this PSLV launch to make sure our customer's satellites were launched earlier. Such a re-manifesting of payloads clearly shows the added value of the ISILaunch Services of ISISpace to serve the CubeSat community, offering access-to-space flexibility towards customers of launch services by operating across multiple launch vehicles and missions in parallel.


Figure 16: Overview of timeline and satellites handled by ISISpace in their ISILaunch 19 campaign (image credit: ISISpace)

• NIUSAT (Noorul Islam University Satellite), located in Kumarakovil, Thuckalay, Kanyakumari District Tamil Nadu, India. NIUSAT is an Earth observation nanosatellite (15 kg). NIUSAT features a RGP camera with a ground resolution of 25 m and a frame size of 50 km x 50 km.

• CE-SAT-1 (Canon Electric Satellite-1), a microsatellite (50 kg) of Canon Electronics Space Technology Laboratory, Japan. The microsatellite features an optical imaging system based on a 40 cm diameter Cassegrain telescope.

• Max Valier, a nanosatellite (16 kg) of the "Max Valier" school Bolzano and the "Oskar von Miller" school Merano, in South Tyrol, Italy.

• D-SAT (Deorbit Satellite), a 3U CubeSat mission (3.5 kg) by the Italian company D-Orbit to demonstrate active end-of-life reentry.

• 3 Diamond nanosatellites (Blue, Green, Red) of Sky and Space Global, UK, developed by GomSpace ApS of Denmark. The three 3U CubeSats (each 6 kg) are pathfinders for Sky and Space Global's 200 Satellite LEO constellation.

• Pegasus, a nanosatellite (2U CubeSat) of FH Wiener Neustadt, Austria (thermosphere research). Pegasus is a member of the QB50 constellation with the m-NLP payload.

• InflateSail, a 3U CubeSat of SSC (Surrey Space Centre) at the University of Surrey, UK (technology demonstration nanosatellite). Part of the QB50 constellation. Inflatesail is designed to test a deployable sail as a means to deorbit the satellite. Inflatesail will use a 3.3 m sail at the end of a 1m boom deployed from the body of the satellite.

• UCLSat (University College London Satellite), a 2U CubeSat of UCL with the INMS (Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer), ionosphere research. UCLSat is part of the QB50 constellation.

• NUDTSat (National University of Defense Technology Satellite), Belgium, a 2U CubeSat of NUDT for ionosphere research. NUDTSat features a FIPEX instrument of the QB50 constellation.

• COMPASS-2 (DragSail CubeSat), a 3U CubeSat of FH Aachen, Germany (technology demonstration nanosatellite). COMPASS-2 is part of the QB50 constellation.

• LituanicaSAT-2, a 3U CubeSat of Vilnius University, Lithuania. The CubeSat is part of the QB50 constellation with a FIPEX payload.

• URSA MAIOR (University of Rome la SApienza MicroAttitude In ORbit testing), a 3U CubeSat to study the lower thermosphere. USRA MAIOR is a member of the QB50 constellation with the m-NLP payload.

• VZLUSat-1, a 2U CubeSat Czech technology nanosatellite of VTLU, developed in cooperation with Czech companies (RITE, HVP Plasma, 5M, TTS, IST) and universities (CVUT, University of West Bohemia). The nanosatellite carries on board the following experiments: a miniaturized X-ray telescope, composite material for radiation shielding, FIPEX, a QB50 instrument, to measure the concentration of oxygen in the thermosphere.

• SUCHAI-1 (Satellite of the University of Chile for Aerospace Investigation), a 1U CubeSat (1 kg).

• Venta-1, a nanosatellite (~5 kg) of Ventspils University, Latvia, developed by Ventspils University College in cooperation with Ventspils High Technology Park, Bremen University of Applied Sciences and OHB Systems. Venta-1 carries an AIS (Automated Identification System ) receiver, which will pick up identification signals from ships at sea.

• Aalto-1, a Finnish student nanosatellite (3U CubeSat) of Aalto University, Aalto, Finland.

• ROBUSTA-1B (Radiation on Bipolar Test for University Satellite Application), a nanosatellite with a scientific experiment developed by the University of Montpellier students (France), a successor to the ROBUSTA satellite, which was launched in February 2012.

• skCube, a 1U CubeSat for educational and popularization outreach developed by SOSA (Slovak Organization for Space Activities ) at the University of Zilina. It is Slovakia's first satellite.

• CICERO-6 (Community Initiative for Cellular Earth Remote Observation-6), a 6U CubeSat of GeoOptics Inc. (~10 kg), Pasadena, CA, built by Tyvak Nanosatellite Systems. The objective is to demonstrate radio occultation observations for a commercial customer. CICERO-6 features Cion (CICERO Instrument for GPS-RO) with a mass of 1.2 kg. Cion has a size of 30 x 10 x 6 cm, power of 8 W. 9)

• Tyvak-53b, a technology 3U demonstrator by Tyvak Nanosatellite Systems, Inc. (Irvine, CA) to validate technology aimed at helping to deorbit small satellites.

• Lemur-2 x 8. Lemur-2 is commercial satellite constellation of Spire Global Inc., San Francisco, CA, The objective of the Lemur-2 constellation is ship tracking via AIS (Automatic Identification System) with SENSE. The STRATOS instrument makes use of GPS occultation measurements to determine temperature, pressure and humidity profiles of Earth's atmosphere for application in operational meteorology.

All 31 Satellites separated successfully. 10)


Before deploying its inflatable mast and drag sail, InflateSail will be in an orbit in which it could be assumed to remain for several months, or even years, before reentering the atmosphere. Once InflateSail has deployed its inflatable mast and thin polymer drag sail, it will rapidly lose kinetic energy, and reenter the Earth's atmosphere, causing the satellite to be destroyed. During the reentry process, the support structure of the drag sail will buckle and collapse. The sail will cease to slow the satellite down, and the structure will enter the upper atmosphere with sufficient kinetic energy to ensure disintegration.


Figure 17: The InflateSail nanosatellite in the deployed configuration (image credit: SSC)

The drag sail functions by imparting the satellite's momentum to the small number of atoms and molecules present in LEO (~100-1000 km altitude) over a long period of time. The number of particles present in the Earth's upper atmosphere and in LEO fluctuates over time, and is dependent on levels of solar and geomagnetic energy. The results of simulations of InflateSail's deorbiting process, calculated using the extremes of solar and geomagnetic activity levels, are shown in Figures 18 and 19.


Figure 18: Deorbit time simulations at extreme values of atmospheric density (high density model), image credit: SSC


Figure 19: Deorbit time simulations at extreme values of atmospheric density (low density model), image credit: SSC



Mission Status

• May 2019: The InflateSail (QB50-UK06) CubeSat, designed and built at the Surrey Space Centre (SSC) for the Von Karman Institute (VKI), Belgium, was a technology demonstrator built under the European Commission's QB50 program. The 3.2 kg 3U CubeSat was equipped with a 1 m long inflatable mast and a 10m2 deployable drag sail and was one of 31 satellites that were launched simultaneously on the PSLV (polar satellite launch vehicle) C-38 from Sriharikota, India on 23rd June 2017 into a 505 km, 97.44º Sun-synchronous orbit. Shortly after insertion into orbit, InflateSail automatically activated its drag-sail payload, and, as planned, began to lose altitude, causing it to reenter the atmosphere just 72 days later – successfully demonstrating for the first time the deorbiting of a spacecraft using European inflatable and drag-sail technologies. 11)

• InflateSail has been a highly successful mission, which has demonstrated the practicality of using drag augmentation to actively de-orbit a spacecraft. The inflatable mast/drag-sail technology developed by SSC will next be used on the RemoveDebris mission, launched in 2018, which will demonstrate the capturing and de-orbiting of artificial space debris targets using a net and harpoon system. These are steps towards the full commercialisation of a practical, cost-effective and reliable ADR (Active Debris Removal) system for LEO spacecraft – especially for those in the sub 500 kg class, where destruction in the atmosphere is complete, and the risk of ground impact is negligibly small. 12)

• The drag de-orbit sail was deployed almost immediately after ejection from the rocket ( June 23, 2017 at an orbital altitude of 505 km), and it re-entered the atmosphere 72 days later. 13)


Figure 20: Orbital altitude decay of InflateSail

• InflateSail successfully deployed its sail approximately one hour after ejection from the launch vehicle and was the first European sail successfully deployed in space. InflateSail rapidly lost altitude and decayed on 3 September 2017 after 72 days in orbit. 14)


1) A. Viquerat, M. Schenk, B. Sanders, V. Lappas, "Inflatable Rigidizable Mast for End-of-Life Deorbiting System," Proceedings of the13th European Conference on Spacecraft Structures, Materials & Environmental Testing (SSMET), Braunschweig, Germany, April 1-4, 2014, ESA SP-727, URL:

2) "Space Vehicle Control," Surrey Space Center, URL:

3) J.M. Fernandez, M. Schenk, G. Prassinos, V.J. Lappas, S.O. Erb, "Deployment mechanisms of a gossamer satellite deorbiter," Proceedings of the 15th European Space Mechanisms and Tribology Symposium 2013 (ESMATS 2013), Noordwijk, The Netherlands, URL:

4) Andrew Viquerat, "InflateSail Specifications Document," SSC (Surrey Space Centre), September 19, 2014

5) "PSLV-C38 / Cartosat-2 Series Satellite," ISRO, June 23, 2017, URL:

6) "Indian Launch Manifest of April 15, 2017," URL:

7) "Indian Launch Manifest of April 15, 2017," URL:

8) Andra, "Successful ISILaunch19 campaign," ISILaunch19, June 23, 2017, URL:

9) Dave Williamson, "Small Satellites: The Execution and Launch of a GPS Radio Occultation Instrument in a 6U Nanosatellite," 33rd Space Symposium, Colorado Springs, CO, USA, April 3-6, 2017, URL of presentation:

10) "PSLV-C38 / Cartosat-2 Series Satellite Mission: All 31 Satellites separated successfully," ISRO, June 23, 2017, URL:

11) Craig Underwood, Andrew Viquerat, Herman Steyn, Ben Taylor, Richard Duke, Brian Stewart, Chris Bridges, Davide Masutti, Amandine Denis, "InflateSail De Orbit Flight Demonstration Observed Re-Entry Attitude and Orbit Dynamics," Proceedings of the 12th IAA Symposium on Small Satellites for Earth Observation, Berlin, Germany, 06-10 May 2019

12) Craig Underwood, Andrew Viquerat, Mark Schenk, Ben Taylor, Chiara Massimiani, Richard Duke, Brian Stewart, Simon Fellowes, Chris Bridges, Guglielmo Aglietti, Berry Sanders, Davide Masutti, Amandine Denis, "InflateSail De-Orbit Flight Demonstration Results and Follow-On Drag-Sail Applications," 69thInternational Astronautical Congress(IAC), Bremen, Germany, 1-5 October 2018, paper: IAC-18-A6.5.2, URL:

13) Information provided by Andrew Viquerat, Lecturer and Undergraduate Admissions Tutor, Mechanical Engineering Sciences, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK.

14) "DK3WN SatBlog, Category: INFLATESAIL - InflateSail decayed," 3 Sept. 2017, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (

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