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Here’s what EU’s 5 futuristic technologies will test in space

The EU just launched some seriously futuristic gear into space on a Vega rocket that took off from the European spaceport in French Guyana. They sent six satellites and nine experiments up there to put them through their paces. This program’s goal is to give the EU’s space industry and other cool tech advancements a big boost. According to the EU, it’s all about bridging the divide between developing a technology and making it a commercial success.

This could be quite a challenge because some of these ideas sound like they’re right out of a sci-fi flick. Now, let’s check out our top five projects undergoing testing in space.

A Plasma Break

Estonian students have put together a tiny satellite called ESTCube2, and it’s going to show off how it can bring down defunct satellites using plasma brakes. This nifty device relies on an electric sail to push away plasma, generating drag that slows down those retired satellites. As a result, all that space junk takes a nosedive and burns up in the atmosphere, preventing any potential disasters.

Someday, this technology might have the potential to propel spacecraft without the need for traditional fuel sources. The satellite’s electric sail consists of a 50-meter-long interconnected aluminum tether, composed of ultra-thin wires measuring just 50 micrometers in diameter, which is no thicker than the average human hair.

Up in low-Earth orbit, this charged tether will push away the relatively still plasma found in the ionosphere around our planet, acting like a space brake. This will gradually decrease the satellite’s speed, allowing Earth’s gravity to tug it into the atmosphere. Once it’s in the atmosphere, the air resistance will do its job, and the satellite will burn up. This entire process should wrap up in under two years.

If things go well, this mission will prove that plasma braking is a budget-friendly and lightweight way to speedily bring satellites back to Earth once they’ve served their purpose. ESTCube-2 is basically a tiny CubeSat, which is like a budget-friendly satellite made of 10cm-sized boxes. What’s cool is that a group of student volunteers from the University of Tartu in Estonia put it together, and they got some guidance from the folks at the Tartu Observatory.

Besides its job of bringing down satellites safely, this little satellite has three more missions on its to-do list. First, it’s going to check out the plants in Estonia. Then, it’ll see how different materials react to the corrosive effects of atomic oxygen way up in the atmosphere. And last but not least, it’ll test out a software-defined radio for amateur radio enthusiasts.

Also read: How an Omega watch changed the way NASA fixes the ISS

Radiation sensors

They’re testing out two different radiation sensors in space. One of them, called RADIOX, was cooked up at KU Leuven, which is Belgium’s top-notch university. This sensor uses electronic memory to keep an eye on any hiccups caused by energetic particles. It figures out radiation levels by counting how many errors pop up in the memory.

The other sensor in the lineup is the Spacepix Radiation Monitor (SXRM), and it’s the brainchild of Esc Aerospace, a Czech aerospace outfit. This gadget is all about detecting radiation. When it’s out there in the radiation-heavy space environment, it’ll keep tabs on the flow of electrons, protons, and big heavy ions.

EU bigwigs are pretty optimistic about this mission. They’re saying it’s the last hurdle before this tech hits the market.

Satellites to study water

INTA, a research organization from Spain, has hooked us up with a brand-new water monitoring system. For this mission, they’re deploying a bunch of mini-satellites called cubesats. These little guys will fly together and use spectrometry to examine the water quality of reservoirs in the Iberian Peninsula.

Spectrometry is like the science of studying how light and stuff interact. It’s all about measuring things like how bright the light is and what colors it has. Basically, it’s a way to figure out what’s going on with different substances, and it’s super handy for checking out sample materials.

Mass spectrometry is a special kind of spectrometry, and it’s all about figuring out the weight of stuff in a chemical sample by looking at its mass-to-charge ratio. First, they zap these particles with a bunch of electrons and then send them through a magnetic field to sort them out. After that, an electron multiplier helps measure the particles, and we can figure out what’s in the sample by checking out the weight of each ion.

Also read: How research of attoseconds helped these physicists win Nobel Prize

Plasma jetpack

EU space experts are showing some serious affection for plasma these days. In addition to the braking system up there, they’ve also got a plasma jetpack in the mix. This high-tech gadget provides an affordable way for small satellites to move around in space.

Comat, a French company that makes space gear, cooked up this jetpack. They’re taking it for a spin in space to prove that it can give satellites weighing between 15 and 30 kilograms the oomph they need.

Compact star tracker

Here’s another cool thing from Spain: a mini star tracker. This little gizmo comes from Solar Mems, an aerospace company in Seville.

The tracker’s job is to figure out the spacecraft’s orientation, and it’s specifically designed for “attitude determination.” The real test of how well it performs will be up there in space.

Vishal Kawadkar
About author

With over 8 years of experience in tech journalism, Vishal is someone with an innate passion for exploring and delivering fresh takes. Embracing curiosity and innovation, he strives to provide an informed and unique outlook on the ever-evolving world of technology.