A tiny spacecraft measuring less than a foot in length is the first designed to end its own life by using a solar sail as an orbital brake. Putting itself through the fiery atmospheric plunge would let it avoid becoming part of the growing cloud of space debris surrounding Earth, New Scientist. You seeing this, DARPA?

The CubeSail craft would use the 16-by-16-foot sail to harness the pressure of sunlight and test the power of solar sail propulsion, before deploying it to de-orbit at the end of its mission life. Launch is scheduled for sometime late next year.

This preventive approach to tackling space junk could prove invaluable to keep the debris cloud from growing, but only if many more future space missions adopt this. Just keeping track of all the tiny bits of debris has proven a challenge, but represents a necessary task for human space missions to get out of harm’s way.

CubeSail’s design comes from the University of Surrey in Guildford, UK. Funding for the project came from EADS Astrium, the biggest European aerospace company that has previously investigated similar death shrouds for satellites.

On a more life-affirming satellite note, the company also recently announced plans to put a solar-power-harvesting satellite into orbit before the decade is out.

[via New Scientist]