Airbus Launches Device to Keep Dead Satellites from Tumbling in Space

An illustration of space debris littering Earth orbit.
An illustration of space debris littering Earth orbit.

An illustration of space debris littering Earth orbit.

Earth’s orbit can be a chaotic place, with defunct spacecraft darting aimlessly across the dark skies. In order to tackle the growing issue of space debris, Airbus created a new device designed to keep satellites from tumbling around after they’re no longer of use.

The device, aptly named Detumbler, launched on Saturday on board a Falcon 9 rocket from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base. It was one 90 payloads to liftoff as part of SpaceX’s Transporter-9 mission.

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The Detumbler, however, would make it easier to capture defunct satellites by future missions aimed at cleaning up space debris by keeping them on a more predictable path in Earth orbit. Airbus’ new device will be tested on the Exo-0 nanosatellite from EnduroSat in early 2024 with a series of detumbling demonstrations.

There are more than 27,000 pieces of orbital debris that are currently being tracked by the Department of Defense’s global Space Surveillance Network, with lots of smaller pieces also floating around undetected. That number is only expected to increase as the global space industry continues to grow, increasing the chances of collision right above our heads. Things have gotten so bad already that the target of a recently launched space debris clean-up mission was struck by space debris in August, highlighting just how important mitigation methods are needed today.

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