Airbus Launches Device to Keep Dead Satellites from Tumbling in Space

An illustration of space debris littering Earth orbit.
Illustration: ESA

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.

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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.

Detumbler is a magnetic damping device that’s meant to be attached to a satellite that’s nearing the end of its life, according to Airbus. Weighing around 100 grams, Detumbler has a central rotor wheel and magnets that interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, which prevents unwanted motion when defunct satellites start to tumble. The device is designed to behave like a compass when the satellite is flying normally in its orbit, aligning with Earth’s magnetic field. If it begins to tumble, however, the movement of the rotor will trigger eddy currents (loops of electrical current within conductors induced by a changing magnetic field) and cause friction to slow down the motion.

The device was developed by Airbus in 2021 with support from the French Space Agency CNES under its Tech4SpaceCare initiative. The main purpose is to address the growing risk of space debris. Dead satellites tend to tumble in unpredictable ways due to orbital flight dynamics, posing a risk of crashing into another spacecraft or making uncontrolled reentries through Earth’s atmosphere.

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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November 14, 2023 at 03:57PM

Microplastics Could Be Affecting the Weather, Too

New research this week is the latest to show that microplastics have polluted just about everywhere on Earth. Scientists discovered plastic particles in cloud samples collected from atop a mountain in Eastern China. The team also found evidence from lab experiments that these microplastics could potentially affect cloud formation and the weather, though more data will be needed to understand exactly how.

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The study was led by scientists from Shandong University. Among other things, they were inspired by a recent study published in September—one where scientists found microplastics in samples of mist collected at the peaks of Mount Fuji and Mount Oyama, both in Japan. The team decided to look for and analyze microplastics in the clouds surrounding the top of Mount Tai, a well-visited and culturally important mountain that’s close to densely populated areas of Eastern China. They studied 28 liquid samples collected during summer 2021.

The team found microplastics in all but four of the samples. These samples contained common plastics such as polyethylene terephthalate, polypropylene, and polyethylene. Samples collected from low-altitude and denser clouds also tended to have greater amounts of microplastics. The concentration of plastics found in the samples overall was substantially lower than those collected from the atmosphere of urban areas, the researchers noted, but much higher than those found in nearby rainfall, remote polar regions, and the cloud water previously collected from Mount Fuji and Mount Oyama in Japan.

“This finding provides significant evidence of the presence of abundant [microplastics] in clouds,” the researchers wrote in their paper, published Wednesday in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

The team additionally conducted a deeper analysis of the microplastics they found, as well as modeling and lab experiments. The older plastic particles tended to be rougher and smaller, for instance, and contained more lead, mercury and oxygen on average than fresher plastics. In the lab, they found that exposing plastics to cloud-like conditions—namely, ultraviolet radiation and filtered water—could cause these same sorts of changes. In other words, they found evidence that clouds can change the makeup of microplastics once they get there, possibly in ways that could then affect cloud formation and subsequently the weather.

There’s still a lot that we don’t know about the specific effects of microplastics, both on the environment and our health, but what we have learned so far hasn’t been comforting. Studies have identified over a hundred chemicals in plastic that could potentially harm us or other animals, including those that disrupt the regulation of important hormones. Chemicals from plastic pollution can also leak into soil and freshwater causing long-term negative consequences for the surrounding ecosystem.

The study authors say that more research will be needed to figure out how microplastics interact with clouds and the potential impacts of these interactions on cloud formation and the presence of toxic metals in the atmosphere. Many scientists, environmental, and public health organizations have already begun to call for widespread reductions in plastic pollution based on the possible dangers we know about.

via Gizmodo

November 15, 2023 at 07:03AM

Roland’s new software instrument Galaxias offers access to 20,000 sounds

Roland just unveiled its latest software plugin instrument. Galaxias, not to be confused with the Galaga-esque arcade game Galaxia, offers access to 20,000 sounds, leading Roland to call it “one big super instrument.” It runs as a standalone application on both macOS and Windows, in addition to operating as a VST3 or AU plugin.

This looks a lot like Arturia’s amazing Analog Lab software, as Galaxias provides access to sounds across Roland’s entire history. There are presets sourced from nearly every Roland instrument you can think of, from the iconic Jupiter 8 synthesizer to the, uh, even more iconic TR 808 drum machine. These sounds aren’t just from retro darlings, as there are plenty of options culled from recent releases like System 8 and Zenology, among others.

As a matter of fact, the company says Galaxias provides access to any instrument available via Roland Cloud. You can also layer up to four instruments together, along with two effects per layer, to create custom soundscapes that Roland calls Scenes. Additionally, there are some beefed up adjustment parameters here, with macro controls that let you change up 128 parameters via internal LFOs or an external MIDI controller.

The Roland Galaxias interface.

Just like Analog Lab, everything’s designed around a proprietary interface that allows for custom organization options, so you won’t lose your favorite preset in a mad dash to find the beefiest bassline. Roland also says that more sounds and capabilities will be added regularly.

Galaxias is available now and is included with a Roland Cloud Ultimate membership, which costs $200 per year or $20 each month. There’s a 30-day free trial for those curious about what all the fuss is about.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

via Engadget

November 14, 2023 at 07:12PM