First created by Airbus in 2021 with the support of the French Space Agency CNES under their Tech4SpaceCare initiative, the patented Detumbler is a magnetic damping device that would be attached to a satellite.
The Detumbler includes a central rotor wheel and magnets that interact with the Earth’s magnetic field.
According to Airbus, 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 to dampen the rotating motion.
According to the ESA’s Annual Space Environment Report, 130 million pieces of space debris larger than a millimetre orbit Earth and are a threat to current and future satellites.
The Kessler Syndrome theory suggests that if the amount of space debris in low Earth orbit (LEO) reaches a certain degree, a cascade effect will ensue, in which debris will constantly be colliding and multiplying. Read The Engineer’s comment, ‘Space junk is a danger to human life and future exploration’, here.
Airbus said that ‘dead’ satellites, especially in LEO, often end up tumbling, which is natural behaviour due to orbital flight dynamics. However, future active debris removal missions will face a greater challenge of approach and capture if spacecraft are tumbling.
The Airbus Detumbler aims to act as a tool for future missions to prevent satellites tumbling after their end of life, and making them easier to capture on debris clearing missions.
The Detumbler was launched on November 11, 2023 and an in-orbit demonstration is scheduled for early 2024 on a mission from Exotrail (SpaceVan), which will include the Exo-0 nanosatellite from EnduroSat.