The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) provided flight test support to SKA Polska of Poland to test a scale-version of their ADRiNET technology, a parametric simulator of a flying net which could be used to capture and deorbit space debris. The National Research Council successfully integrated the experiment into its Falcon 20 research aircraft and completed two micro-gravity test flights—with 21 parabolas in total—to test the technology in a zero-gravity environment.
The mesh net, which is weighted around its perimeter, is designed to eject pneumatically from a cylinder and expand to capture space debris, including large, derelict satellites. The concept would have a spacecraft approach a target and deploy a net towards it. The net, still tethered to the spacecraft, would open during flight and entangle the debris. Once the target is captured, the spacecraft could start the deorbiting process.
It was integral that the simulator be validated in a microgravity environment during parabolic flight in order to observe certain aspects of the technology, such as net drifting, and to predict how it will function in orbit. The Falcon 20 aircraft carried out these test flights, which involved free falling for 20 seconds at a time, in order to cancel out gravity inside the aircraft.
"NRC's service fulfilled all the complex requirements of our experiment and allowed us to outfit the Falcon 20 according to our needs. Out of 21 parabolas, only one net missed its target, which is proof that the microgravity environment delivered by NRC was stable and predictable. The engineering services provided were of the highest quality, and all the additional components procured were functional and met all the airworthiness standards. It was very successful campaign," said Wojtek Golebiowski, Technical Director at SKA Polska.
"NRC is home to a fleet of unique aircraft, offering research platforms that are sought out by clients from all over the world," said Stephen Parkinson, Director of the Flight Research Laboratory at the National Research Council of Canada. "While much of our work is focused on aeronautics R&TD, we are increasing our space-related activities, and this project was well-aligned with our commitments to reducing the environmental footprint of the aerospace industry—whether within or outside of the earth's atmosphere."
SKA Polska's ADRiNET project is being carried out for the European Space Agency as part of their Clean Space initiative, which aims to reduce the impact of the space industry on both the terrestrial and orbital environments.
The National Research Council's Falcon 20 research aircraft is a robust platform able to support projects requiring high speed and altitude operations. The Falcon 20's microgravity modifications and supporting engineering analyses allow for proven and safe operations between 0 and 2G, inclusive of simulating Martian and Lunar gravity. In conjunction with NRC's Gas Turbine Laboratory, the Falcon 20 is able to support ground-breaking bio-fuels testing, and achieved a world-first 100% bio-fuel flight in 2012. The aircraft can be equipped to support geosciences studies, avionics research, and aircraft-based sensor research. The Falcon 20 is backed by a support team with solid experience in flight testing and airborne experimentation.