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Future satellites could deploy solar sails to help take down pieces of space junk floating around Earth and a tiny new spacecraft hopes to make it possible.
A British satellite the size of a shoe box is slated to launch next year to test how a solar sail can act as an atmospheric brake and end its mission in a fiery plunge. If successful, the one-year mission could help lead to bigger, better solar sail spacecraft capable of trawling the space around Earth for dangerous space junk, mission planners said.
Most satellites rely upon propellant-based maneuvering thrusters that may or may not still function at mission's end — and that's not even considering the launch expense of carrying all that propellant mass. By contrast, the CubeSail would simply unfurl a 16-square-foot (5-square-meter) sail. Launch of the 6.6-pound (3-kg) sail is set for late 2011.