Magnets in space

Who’s excited for the SpaceX launch on Saturday? We certainly are! For those of you unsure, Nasa and SpaceX are making history this Saturday 30th May, by launching two astronauts into space from US soil for the first time since 2011! Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are due to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) at 8.22pm UK time, in a spacecraft built by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company. If successful, this will be the first time this act would have been performed by a privately-owned company. The mission is to show SpaceX’s ability to successfully send humans back and forth from space safely.

Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley in training. Image source:
https://edition.cnn.com/2020/05/29/tech/spacex-nasa-launch-may-30-scn/index.html

With all the excitement this got us thinking. Do magnets still work in space? Are they used in space missions, if so how? So, we did some investigating and here are our findings…

Do magnets work in space?

There are many forums and articles that ask the question, do magnets work in space? We also get asked this question amongst avid space fans and our customers. We believe this is due to people thinking that magnets are affected once magnets come out of the Earth’s atmosphere. We can confirm that magnets DO work in space and are in fact used in space missions! Below is a video taken from in space that demonstrates this:

Are magnets used in space, if so how?

Scientists and astronauts use magnets in a variety of ways when it comes to traveling and studying in space. From space equipment, to satellites – and they even helped to land on the moon! Here we have gathered up some examples of magnets have been used in space.

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02)

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is a particle-physics detector to study the dark matter, antimatter and missing matter from a module attached to the outside of the International Space Station (ISS). To simplify this the AMS is an incredibly strong permanent magnet, with a magnetic field 20,000 times stronger than Earth’s. They use the magnetic field of the AMS to interact with articles in space, these particles bend in different ways based on their charge. The main purpose was to help scientists study the particles from cosmic phenomena such as black holes and dying stars. Samuel Ting is the man behind the AMS and has been an ongoing project from 1995. In 2013, researchers announced their findings from the AMS experiment. They were able to conclusively prove the existence of an excess of positrons or high-energy particles of antimatter. Various findings and reports have been made since then, but Samuel Ting has advised the collaborations need data up until 2024 before they can confirm the latest results as well as previous results. This data will include the intriguing excess of cosmic-ray positrons over what is expected. He also confirmed bigger data set would allow the team to venture into other territories, including highly charged cosmic rays!

Satellites

Scientists use various methods for orienting objects such as satellites in space. One of these methods is called magnetic torquers. Magnetic Torquers are built from electromagnetic coils, meaning they usually consist of wire coils and magnetic alloy rods that are placed strategically on a satellite. They create a magnetic dipole that interact with the Earth’s magnetic field which helps situate satellites and spacecrafts.  

Apollo 11

That’s right – magnets made it possible for Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin to land on the moon! Magnets were used within the navigational computers to generate power instead of relying on electricity. The magnetic energy was deemed more reliable because it was less likely to be susceptible to power outages.

The future of magnets in space

While that is just some of the uses of magnets in space, they have the potential to improve space exploration even more in the future. The future of magnets being used in space more is promising and growing. Researchers from NASA’s Mars Rovers have been using magnets to collect magnetic dust from the face of Mars. These samples are being examined in hope to learn more about the geology of Mars and it’s minerals. Another idea is to use magnets as fuel. This idea comes from Apollo 11, as mentioned above, the navigational computer was generated by the power of magnets, however this idea hasn’t been viable for large scale power—yet. Others also think we should clean up our atmosphere and use magnets to collect broken satellite parts. We shall keep you updated with the latest on magnets in space, but until then, happy rocket spotting!

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