SCIENCE + TECHNOLOGY

U professor finds new way to clean up space junk

Nov 13, 2023, 8:00 PM | Updated: 8:53 pm

Image of a satellite in space. A University of Utah professor has found a way to clean up space jun...

A University of Utah professor has found a way to clean up space junk. (NASA via AP, File)

(NASA via AP, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — A University of Utah professor has a new way to clean up space junk.

Space debris poses a threat to active satellites and even our space station. Getting rid of those objects can protect that technology. In a University of Utah podcast, U mechanical engineering professor Jake Abbott said there’s a lot of space junk.

“There’s estimates that there’s something like 130 million objects,” he said.

While Abbott said that includes objects less than a centimeter in size, all this debris is still dangerous. That’s why he has been working on a new magnet to help get rid of rapidly rotating space junk. It’s called an Omnimagnet.

“It’s a sort of electromagnetic cube, that can make a magnetic field that’s pointing in any direction,” Abbott said.

The Omnimagnet creates a dipole field, which Abbott said is the same as a magnet with a north and south pole. The dipole field can then slow down and control debris, even if the debris itself is not magnetic. 

“Our idea is that you can basically approach this tumbling object, and using our magnetic field sources, we can induce torque that opposes the angular velocity of the object and we just slowly slow it down,” Abbott said. “Once the object isn’t spinning anymore, then there’s lots of traditional robotic approaches you can use. You can reach out and grab it with a hand.”

Slowing down the debris allows scientists to repair the objects or guide them into the atmosphere where they can burn up. An invention like Abbott’s is valuable to clear the space around the Earth and further protect important technology like satellites.

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U professor finds new way to clean up space junk