A plasma wind tunnel destroys the satellite model during an atmospheric reentry test


A plasma The wind tunnel completely vaporizes a satellite model in a video from the European Space Agency (ESA), demonstrating how the speed and heat of atmospheric reentry can wipe out even the largest parts of space satellites.

This total destruction is a good thing.

Here’s why: Fast-moving space debris is entering EarthThe atmosphere of could pose a serious danger if this space debris survives the stress of re-entry. By testing satellite heat thresholds, engineers can design spacecraft that are tough enough to do their job, but that will also burn safely in the atmosphere when they drop to Earth, ESA officials say. said in a press release.

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Once a satellite’s mission is complete, its operators can remove the object from orbit by using its control system to lower the satellite’s perigee, or the closest orbital point to Earth, into what is calls for a controlled re-entry. When the perigee is low enough, gravity then takes over and pulls the spacecraft down, according to ESA. This method causes the satellite to re-enter the atmosphere at a steep angle, ensuring that debris will then hit a relatively small area. Satellite operators typically target the open ocean, to minimize risk to people, according to ESA.

By comparison, uncontrolled re-entry does not send the satellite to a designated landing zone. But for an operator to send a satellite to collapse into Earth’s atmosphere in an uncontrolled descent, federal satellite regulatory agencies require proof that the risk of impact injury is less than 1 in 10,000, according to ESA.

To achieve this degree of certainty, engineers must show that all parts of the falling satellite will burn before approaching the ground – as shown by the satellite’s melting in images filmed inside an air chamber. test belonging to the German Aerospace Center. (DLR), in Cologne, Germany. Scientists there simulated reentry conditions using gas heated by an electric arc to temperatures over 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit (6,700 degrees Celsius), according to the DLR Institute of Aerodynamics and Flow Technology.

In the ESA video, a solar panel drive mechanism (SADM) – the part of a satellite that directs the position of its solar panels and one of the larger parts of a typical satellite – enters in the plasma wind chamber. Experiments to make SADM more vulnerable to atmospheric destruction began a year earlier. In the first step, the researchers built software models of the SADM that tested the melting point of a new type of aluminum screw.

Scientists then built a 3D physical model of SADM using the new aluminum screws, testing it inside the plasma chamber. The model encountered wind speeds of thousands of miles per hour, reproducing conditions comparable to atmospheric reentry, and the result was vaporized SADM – just as the software models predicted, representatives from the ESA.

Satellite fusion experiments like this are also part of an ESA program called CleanSat, in which the agency studies and tests new technologies so that future low-orbit satellite designs will follow a sinister concept: “D4D”, or “Design for Demise,” according to ESA.

Originally posted on Live Science.


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