Airbus patents device to halt satellite tumbling

Airbus will soon test a device to prevent satellites from tumbling after their end-of-life.

Debris removal missions will face greater challenges if spacecraft are tumbling, Airbus says.

Essentially, a tumbling satellite is rotating in an uncontrolled manner – it can’t maintain a stable and predictable orientation in space. Eventually, it can fall out of orbit and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

Airbus’ Detumbler device is designed to prevent satellites at the end of their lives from tumbling. It’s a magnetic damping device weighing in at around 100g that would be attached to the satellite.

“The Detumbler includes a central rotor wheel and magnets that interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. When the satellite is flying normally, the rotor acts like a compass following the magnetic field, but should the spacecraft begin to tumble, the rotor movement induces eddy currents acting like a friction torque, thus damping the motion,” Airbus explained.

The device will be tested early next year. Over 8,000 satellites currently orbit the Earth.

There have been no confirmed instances of a satellite debris collision with an airplane. However, such an occurrence is becoming more likely. As The Conversation pointed out in a comprehensive report on the risks of airplanes clashing with space debris, satellites are launched using rockets. Some of them are brought back in a controlled manner, while others are abandoned in orbit.

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