, especially when fading technological elements survive re-entry and return to Earth in the form of pieces of angry debris. Researchers at the European Space Agency wanted to know more about how the satellites burn during the autumn. So they fried a satellite block in a plasma blower to see what was going on. The footage is impressive.
The plasma blower, located in the German Aerospace Center DLR, can reproduce the extremely hot conditions of re-entry into the Earth's orbit. The satellite part was a small magnetotorque, a component that helps orient a satellite. It contains carbon fibers, polymer composites, copper coils and an iron-cobalt center.
Magnetotokers are one of the satellite components that can withstand complete combustion during re-entry. The magnetotorque eventually evaporates mainly to heat, reaching "several thousand degrees Celsius".
The researchers compared the actual results to their predictions and noted "some discrepancies with the prediction models".
This flaming experience was part of the ESA Clean Space initiative. Watching a bit of satellite burning is an enticing temptation, but it could also help prevent future accidents where space wastes make an unwelcome return to Earth.