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From Space to Earth Without a Parachute

An ambitious project where the TU Wien Space Team played an integral part has succeeded. Cylindrical probes were released from space and glided back to earth unharmed.

Source: Press release of TU Wien, release from Dr. Florian Aigner

The project idea sounded nearly impossible: can one release cylindrical measuring instruments from space that collects data and returns to earth unharmed? Project Daedalus, a project started by students from the University of Würzburg and the TU Wien Space Team, has proven that yes, one can create such probes. The experiment was supposed to be conducted last year however due to unexpected problems from the German-Swedish rocket the project had to be delayed. On the 4th of March 2019 the rocket was successfully launched with the probes on board and the data proved that the experiment was a success.

Data Collection in the Upper Atmosphere

The goal was to create a device with which one can collect metrological data on a budget. The altitude of 70-80 km is especially interesting: weather balloons that can only reach 30-40 km this altitude is too high and for satellites this altitude is too low, thus causing this the 70-80 km altitude to be largely unexplored.

The basic idea of the device is similar to that of maple seeds that sink to earth slowly due to their long wings. The cylindrical devices of the Daedalus project have long wings that slow down the descent so the device can return to earth unharmed.

The REXUS/BEXUS project of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Swedish National Space Board, and the ESA was the project that provided the rocket that launched our devices to space. The rocket was launched in an unpopulated area of Sweden where many other student projects were part of the payload that got brought up to an altitude of around 70 km

Great Success


“After analysing the data we can say that the experiment has proceeded as planned”, Christoph Fröhlich, president of the Space Team, reported. The rocket ascended for 130 seconds and released three devices at an altitude of 75 km. During free fall they were accelerated to 800 m/s before they were decelerated during reentry of the atmosphere. During landing they had a speed of around 25 m/s. With the help of satellite communication modules the devices broadcasted their landing position and all three were salvaged with helicopters around 33 km away from launch site.

“Besides a few wings that were probably damaged by contact with trees during landing, the probes remained undamaged”, said Christoph Fröhlich. After salvaging the devices the question arose whether the deceleration mechanism worked correctly. “We were able to analyse the sensor data, which included data on the rate of descent and speed of rotation of the probes. The data showed that they decelerated with a stable rotation and did not fall like stones with uncontrolled spinning”.

This means that the technology developed during project Daedalus has proven to be useful for atmospheric analysis. “This time round the goal was to demonstrate that the method works. In the future, we want to carry out further scientific experiments in the atmosphere”, stated Christoph Fröhlich. A new project is already planned.

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