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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


  • Iaroslav Iakubivskyi
  • Pekka Janhunen
  • Viljo Allik
  • Kadri Bussov
  • Bruce Clayhills
  • Janis Dalbins
  • Tõnis Eenmäe
  • Hendrik Ehrpais
  • Jouni Envall
  • Sean Haslam
  • Erik Ilbis
  • Emilia Kilpua
  • Joosep Kivastik
  • Jürgen Laks
  • Philipp Laufer
  • Maido Merisalu
  • Matias Meskanen
  • Robert Märk
  • Mart Noorma
  • Samuli Nyman
  • Mihkel Pajusalu
  • Minna Palmroth
  • Aditya Savio Paul
  • Mathias Plans
  • Jouni Polkko
  • Quazi Saimoon Islam
  • Anu Reinart
  • Väino Sammelselg
  • Janis Sate
  • Indrek Sünter
  • Martin Tajmar
  • Hans Teras
  • Petri Toivanen
  • Rami Vainio
  • Mika Väänänen

Research units

  • University of Tartu
  • Aalto University
  • Finnish Meteorological Institute
  • University of Helsinki
  • University of Tartu
  • Estonian Student Satellite Foundation - ESTCube
  • Dresden University of Technology
  • Ventspils University College
  • University of Turku


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
JournalActa astronautica
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

    Research areas

  • Coulomb drag propulsion, Plasma brake, Space debris, Deorbiting, Electric solar wind sail, ESTCube-2, FORESAIL-1, Space sustainability

ID: 39616181