A team of researchers has developed a method of manipulating debris orbiting Earth with rotating magnets to remove space junk. According to the US Space Agency (NASA), there are more than 27,000 pieces of space debris larger than a ball orbiting the Earth and moving at speeds up to about 28,163 km/h. A piece of debris as small as that is enough to damage a satellite or spacecraft, according to Phys on October 29.
Professor of mechanical engineering Jake J. Abbott of the University of Utah (USA) led the team that discovered a method of manipulating debris with magnets. The team’s research was published in the scientific journal Nature.
This method involves moving non-magnetic metal objects through space using rotating magnets. According to Mr. Abbott, when metal debris is affected by a changing magnetic field, the electromagnetic fields will circulate in the metal in circles.
Essentially, the process turns the shard into an electromagnet that generates torque and force, which in turn allows control of the shard’s destination without having to actually grab it. Although the idea of using various types of electromagnetic currents to control objects in space is not new, what Professor Abbott’s team has discovered is the use of multiple sources of magnetic fields in a coordinated manner. This allows them to move objects in six levels of motion, including rotating them.
“What we want to do is not just push objects away, but actually control them like on Earth,” Mr Abbott said.
In addition, this method also allows scientists to manipulate particularly fragile objects. While a robotic arm can damage an object by exerting force only on part of the object, these magnets apply a gentler force to the entire object so that no damage is caused. .
Mr. Abbott believes this principle of using magnets to manipulate non-magnetic metal objects could have other uses than cleaning up debris in orbit. With this new knowledge, scientists can prevent a damaged satellite from spinning through space to repair it, something they were not able to do before.