ESA has decided to mitigate space debris piece by piece

The European Space Agency Clean Space initiative seeks to address space debris by developing satellites that can self-destruct on reentering Earth instead of the chunks staying in space after deorbiting. This initiative started eight years ago to evaluate the agency’s missions’ environmental effect since they began launches. The Clean Space initiative advocates for the clearance of space debris by halting the addition of more space junk. The initiative’s purpose is to ensure that any spacecraft component that reenters has the probability of 0.0001 to survive and threaten people’s lives on Earth. The agency decided to develop features that would end in flames in the atmosphere by testing the components instead of simulating with software.¬†

The engineers practically simulated a spacecraft component entering Earth using a plasma wind tunnel developed at the German space agency called DRL. The tunnel imitates supercritical gases that satellites interact with while reentering the planet. These conditions wax the components with some breaking off. The agency conducted several tests to analyze the elements with a high propensity of surviving the atmospheric conditions on its reentry. Parts with aluminum titanium alloy and stainless steel were tested to prove their survival rate. The agency managed to conduct the first test on a satellite component two years ago. The team created conditions that the components would encounter on reentry and collected the observation to explore the most appropriate way to mitigate this problem. 

The most recent Clean Space test procedure was finalized in March this year. The engineers passed various satellite components, including a control computer and battery, to test their potency if they detach from the spacecraft in its reentry to Earth. Clean Space systems engineer Tiago Soares stated that each test proved a different concept that they were unaware of. He added that one eye-catching simulation involving a magnetorquer from LusoSpace, a Portuguese space technology firm. 

This device ensures that the satellite utilizes the Earth’s magnetic field to generate torque for maintaining attitude and proper maneuverability. LusoSpace had integrated carbon fiber and polymeric material to cover the iron-cobalt core cased with copper wires. Interestingly, the shelling of carbon fiber took longer than anticipated to detach from the internals before the copper coils succumbing to the heat.  LusoSpace spokesperson, Andr√© Rodrigues, stated that they had to reshape the magnetorquer to expose the core to ensure that the component burns out completely on reentering the Earth.

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