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Air Liquide, partner of the Microscope satellite's innovative de-orbiting system

  • Space

Air Liquide helped to design and build IDEAS (Innovative DEorbiting Aerobrake System) – an innovative aerobraking system that will slow down the Microscope satellite and allow it to burn up in the atmosphere more quickly.

Following two years of scientific missions, the CNES has de-orbited the Microscope (MICROSatellite à traînée Compensée pour l'Observation du Principe d'Equivalence) satellite. Thanks to the innovative IDEAS system, the satellite will burn up in Earth's atmosphere in just about 25 years. This device is fitted with a gas regulation plate and two 4.5 m inflatable booms. At the end of the mission, they were inflated with nitrogen and both deployed a "wing". This drag reduces the satellite's speed, thereby deviating its orbit over time. Air Liquide's teams designed and built the gas regulation system, which converted the nitrogen from high to low pressure to avoid damaging the booms during inflation. Air Liquide also supplied the titanium tank where high-pressure nitrogen was stored.

The purpose of the Microscope satellite was to test the principle of equivalence1, and its innovative de-orbiting system was designed in response to the 2008 French law on space operations that aims to restrict the proliferation of space debris and reduce related risks. Without the IDEAS system, it would take the satellite approximately 73 years to burn up in the atmosphere.

Air Liquide also designed and built two other gas regulation systems that supplied the thrusters responsible for stabilizing the Microscope satellite in order to avoid disturbing the measurements made during its mission.

1 This is what we call the universality of free fall or equality of gravitational and inertial mass, which Albert Einstein later stated as the equivalence principle and made the basis of his theory of general relativity.

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