Date of Award

Summer 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering

Committee Director

Robert L. Ash

Committee Member

Brett Newman

Committee Member

Colin P. Britcher


The United Nations Inter-Agency Debris Coordination Committee has adopted a 25-year post-mission lifetime requirement for any satellite orbiting below 2000 km in order to mitigate the growing orbital debris threat. Low-cost CubeSats have become important satellite platforms with startling capabilities, but this guideline restricts them to altitudes below 600 km because they remain in orbit too long. In order to enable CubeSat deployments at higher release altitudes, a low-cost, ultra-reliable deorbit device is needed.

This thesis reports on efforts to develop a deployable and passively inflatable drag brake that can deorbit from higher orbital altitudes, thereby complying with the 25-year orbital lifetime guideline. On the basis of concepts first implemented during the NASA Echo Satellite Project, this study investigated the design of an inflatable CubeSat drag device that utilizes sublimating benzoic acid powder as the inflation propellant. Testing has focused on demonstrating the functionality of charging a Mylar drag brake bladder with appropriate quantities of benzoic acid powder, and the exposure to a controlled-temperature vacuum chamber causing the bladder to inflate. Although results show a measureable increase in internal pressure when introduced to anticipated orbital temperatures, a significant air-derived expansion prior to sublimation was encountered due to the undetectable volume of ambient residual air in the fabricated membrane bladders. These tests have demonstrated the feasibility of this approach, thereby demonstrating that this concept can create a potentially smaller and less expensive drag device, eliminating inflation gas tanks and valves. In that way, this system can provide a low-cost, miniaturized system that reduces a CubeSat’s orbital lifetime to less than 25 years, when placed at higher orbital altitude.