Exo-Brake is a technology developed by NASA mainly aimed at returning satellites and payloads, placed in orbit, back to Earth using the technique of airbraking. To date, only the Russian Soyuz space capsule and the Chinese Dragon space capsule were able to transport equipment from space using propulsion systems. The American space agency's Ames Centre developed the Exo-Brake in order to make returning equipment to earth a more affordable and technically easier process.
Made from Mylar, the brand name of a PET film developed by DuPont, the Exo-Brake resembles a cross-parachute that deploys from the rear of a satellite to increase the drag.
According to Project Manager Marcus Murbach, "it is a hybrid system of mechanical struts and flexible cords with a control system that ‘warps’ the Exo-Brake – much like how the Wright brothers used warping to control the lateral trajectory of their first flying machine, the Flyer". The inventor of this new de-orbiting device used a technique dating back to 1903.
The mini parachute will be subjected to its first test in real conditions from the International Space Station in early 2017. The aim is not to test how it enters the atmosphere, but rather to use the braking system to enable it to leave its orbit and to reach the desired landing site. This technology could help make exploring other planets a safer prospect and, in the future, it could be adapted to robotic missions to explore the solar system and lead to the creation of larger capacity spacecraft that could enable satellites to land on Mars, or on asteroids, for instance.