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Deorbit and Closeout

Scope and Description

This topic page covers the deorbit and closeout phase of a smallsat mission. Deorbit is a common regulatory requirement for low Earth orbit (LEO) smallsat missions. If the orbital altitude is low enough, de-orbit devices or propulsion systems must be activated to ensure that the satellite will reenter the atmosphere and burn up within the required timeframe. Closeout activities include deactivation of the dedicated operations infrastructure and team, preparing a final report, and archiving data.

Resources under this topic area are primarily software tools for deorbit evaluation and planning and white papers and articles relevant to smallsat deorbit.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Last Updated:

Nov. 10, 2021

If propulsion or other deorbit devices may be required, deorbit should be considered during the early concept development and mission design phase of the smallsat project.

Last Updated:

Nov. 1, 2021

Document lessons learned from the entire project lifecycle during the closeout process and ensure that these are used to inform technical and programmatic adjustments for future smallsat projects.


Last Updated: Nov. 10, 2021

This resource provides an overview of the legal and regulatory issues related to small satellite missions ... and provides useful examples and processes on how to handle them. Section 4 of the document outlines launch services, space insurance, and in-orbit legal and policy issues.

Last Updated: Nov. 10, 2021

This NASA recommended document provides useful guidance on obtaining a license from the Federal Communications ... Commission (FCC). It answers important questions such as; who is eligible, how to apply for a license, and what information is required - including information related to orbital debris mitigation.

Debris Assessment Software

Software Tool

Last Updated: July 18, 2021

"The Debris Assessment Software (DAS) utility provides data that can verify compliance of a spacecraft, ... upper stage, and/or payload with NASA's requirements for limiting debris generation, spacecraft vulnerability, postmission lifetime, and entry safety. Successful verification of a design in DAS demonstrates compliance with NASA debris mitigation requirements."

Handbook for New Actors in Space

White Paper
Secure World Foundation

Last Updated: July 18, 2021

In Chapter 3, this handbook provides useful information on the responsibilities of organizations launching ... space missions. Chapters 1 and 2 provide valuable political, legal, policy, and regulatory context regarding these responsibilities. The content in Chapter 3 on licensing, operations, and end-of-life are particularly useful for smallsat developers.

This annual state-of-the-art report from NASA provides "a survey of small spacecraft technologies sourced ... from open literature" with an introduction to each technology, development status and performance metrics for procurable systems, and descriptions of new technologies with reference missions. Section 13 of this report covers deorbit system technologies.

Last Updated: Aug. 23, 2021

This article details the Roll-Out De-Orbiting (RODEO) device developed by Composite Technology Development, ... Inc. This deorbiting device increases the deployed surface area, thus resulting in aerodynamic drag. This device provides smallsat developers with an ultra-lightweight solution for deorbiting and mitigation of space debris.

Last Updated: Aug. 20, 2021

This article on solar and drag sail propulsion discusses the advancement in technology over the years. ... Past and future missions using solar and drag sails are discussed along with how each mission is demonstrating the maturity of the technology.

De-orbiting Strategies

White Paper
WH Steyn

Last Updated: Aug. 20, 2021

This presentation provides an overview of a variety of deorbiting strategies for cubesats. Strategies ... such as drag sails, tethers, and solar radiation pressure (SRP) are introduced with examples and images.

Last Updated: Aug. 20, 2021

This NASA standard outlines the policies and procedures for limiting orbital debris for objects with ... altitudes exceeding 130 km. From conducting debris assessments to proper postmission disposal of spacecraft, this document provides detailed information on acceptable deorbit planning and execution procedures.

This article provides detailed equations for calculating the estimated time for re-entry of a CubeSat ... due to Earth's oblateness and atmospheric drag. NASA models and a spacecraft's initial conditions are used to calculate the decay of a CubeSat orbit.

Last Updated: Oct. 19, 2021

"Frequently, ORSAT is used for a higher-fidelity survivability analysis after the NASA Debris Assessment ... Software (DAS) has determined that a spacecraft is possibly non-compliant with the NASA Safety Standard."

Last Updated: Nov. 11, 2021

This resource provides a list of best practices that have been developed and are endorsed by leading ... organizations in the space industry. These best practices detail sustainable space operations guidance to mitigate orbital debris, prevent satellite collisions, and preserve safe access to space in the future.

Last Updated: Nov. 11, 2021

"DRAMA (Debris Risk Assessment and Mitigation Analysis) is a comprehensive tool for the compliance analysis ... of a space mission with space debris mitigation standards." DRAMA can be used to perform analysis on debris flux levels, orbital fuel requirements, collision avoidance and maneuvering, and re-entry survival predictions.

Policy Compliance Roadmap for Small Satellites

White Paper
Aerospace Corporation

Last Updated: Nov. 11, 2021

"This paper explores United States (U.S.) space policies and how they apply to satellite missions that ... may not fit the typical satellite mission mold. The paper presents a “roadmap” for policy compliance for satellites from diverse agencies and identifies areas where further work is underway to address the challenges posed by the evolution of the space industry. The paper lays out a coherent way forward for all small satellites navigating the approval quagmire, and for mission managers of multi-payload rideshares who wish to smooth the path to launch approval."