At the top of the list was concern that the problem is getting exponentially worse — in under a quarter century, the amount of space debris large enough to destroy a spacecraft more than doubled, according to experts.
“With a satellite you want to de-orbit, it’s much better if you can stay at a safe distance, without needing to come into direct contact and risking damage to both chaser and target satellites,” Emilien Fabacher, a researcher from Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace, said in a statement. “So the idea I’m investigating is to apply magnetic forces either to attract or repel the target satellite, to shift its orbit or de-orbit it entirely.”
The chaser satellite’s magnetic field would be created by cooling superconducting wires to cryogenic temperatures.
As satellites are already equipped with electromagnets, the method wouldn’t require any additional changes to the derelict satellites. Fabacher’s chaser satellites would also be able to attract and position multiple satellites in a desired formation, according to Finn Ankersen, an ESA expert in rendezvous, docking, and formation flight.