Coulomb drag propulsion experiments of ESTCube-2 and FORESAIL-1

Iaroslav Iakubivskyi, Pekka Janhunen, Jaan Praks, Viljo Allik, Kadri Bussov, Bruce Clayhills, Janis Dalbins, Tõnis Eenmäe, Hendrik Ehrpais, Jouni Envall, Sean Haslam, Erik Ilbis, Nemanja Jovanovic, Emilia Kilpua, Joosep Kivastik, Jürgen Laks, Philipp Laufer, Maido Merisalu, Matias Meskanen, Robert MärkAnkit Nath, Petri Niemelä, Mart Noorma, Muhammad Rizwan Mughal, Samuli Nyman, Mihkel Pajusalu, Minna Palmroth, Aditya Savio Paul, Tatu Peltola, Mathias Plans, Jouni Polkko, Quazi Saimoon Islam, Anu Reinart, Bagus Riwanto, Väino Sammelselg, Janis Sate, Indrek Sünter, Martin Tajmar, Eija Tanskanen, Hans Teras, Petri Toivanen, Rami Vainio, Mika Väänänen, Andris Slavinskis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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This paper presents two technology experiments – the plasma brake for deorbiting and the electric solar wind sail for interplanetary propulsion – on board the ESTCube-2 and FORESAIL-1 satellites. Since both technologies employ the Coulomb interaction between a charged tether and a plasma flow, they are commonly referred to as Coulomb drag propulsion. The plasma brake operates in the ionosphere, where a negatively charged tether deorbits a satellite. The electric sail operates in the solar wind, where a positively charged tether propels a spacecraft, while an electron emitter removes trapped electrons. Both satellites will be launched in low Earth orbit carrying nearly identical Coulomb drag propulsion experiments, with the main difference being that ESTCube-2 has an electron emitter and it can operate in the positive mode. While solar-wind sailing is not possible in low Earth orbit, ESTCube-2 will space-qualify the components necessary for future electric sail experiments in its authentic environment. The plasma brake can be used on a range of satellite mass classes and orbits. On nanosatellites, the plasma brake is an enabler of deorbiting – a 300-m-long tether fits within half a cubesat unit, and, when charged with -1 kV, can deorbit a 4.5-kg satellite from between a 700- and 500-km altitude in approximately 9–13 months. This paper provides the design and detailed analysis of low-Earth-orbit experiments, as well as the overall mission design of ESTCube-2 and FORESAIL-1.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)771-783
Number of pages13
JournalActa Astronautica
Early online date2019
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Coulomb drag propulsion
  • Plasma brake
  • Space debris
  • Deorbiting
  • Electric solar wind sail
  • ESTCube-2
  • Space sustainability


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