You are on page 1of 31

Tethered Propulsion

Tether propulsion requires no fuel, is completely reusable and

environmentally clean, and provides all these features at low cost. Space tethers are cables, usually long and very strong, which can be used for propulsion, stabilization, or maintaining the formation of space systems by determining the trajectory of spacecraft and payloads. Depending on the mission objectives and altitude, spaceflight using this form of spacecraft propulsion may be significantly less expensive than spaceflight using rocket engines.
Three main techniques for employing space tethers are in


Electrodynamic tether This is a conductive tether that carries a current that can generate thrust or drag from a planetary magnetic field, in much the same way as an electric motor.

Momentum exchange tether This is a rotating tether that would grab a spacecraft and then release it at later time. Doing this can transfer momentum and energy from the tether to and from the spacecraft with very little loss; this can be used for orbital maneuvering. Tethered Formation Flying This is typically a non-conductive tether that accurately maintains a set distance between space vehicles.

Consider a Normal Satellite mission

Launch rocket/space shuttle Shuttle deploys payload (usually satellite) Satellite performs function, and then eventually loses enough momentum to fall out of orbit If Satellite needs more time in space, fuel must be shipped up to the satellite Bottom Line: needs fuel Disadvantages of Fuel: Expensive Refueling MIR space station costs estimated at about $1 billion. Limited Supply Earth is already running out of fossil fuels, nuclear/renewable resources not yet a viable solution for propulsion in space We need a propellant-less propulsion

Earth has magnetic field Earth has electric field Basic law of Physics : F=BxI If we could utilize the Earths electric and magnetic fields by driving current in the right direction, then we can generate an electromotive force sufficient for use in orbit

Keep it simple: Generate current along a straight line
Tether needs to be kept taut and oriented properly in the magnetic field Another basic rule of physics: if two masses connected by a tether are in orbit, the masses will align themselves along the local vertical regardless of the starting
Use a taut conducting wire (Tether) to channel the current

Electrodynamic Tethered
Electrodynamic tethers (EDTs) are long conducting wires, such as one deployed from a tether satellite, which can operate on electromagnetic principles as generators, by converting their kinetic energy to electrical energy, or as motors, converting electrical energy to kinetic energy. Electric potential is generated across a conductive tether by its motion through the Earth's magnetic field. The choice of the metal conductor to be used in an electrodynamic tether is determined by a variety of factors. Primary factors usually include high electrical conductivity, and low density. Secondary factors, depending on the application, include cost, strength, and melting point.

A space object, i.e. a satellite in Earth orbit, or any other space object either natural or man made, is physically connected to the tether system. The tether system comprises a deployer from which a conductive tether having a bare segment extends upward from space object. The positively biased anode end of tether collects electrons from the ionosphere as space object moves in direction across the Earth's magnetic field. These electrons flow through the conductive structure of the tether to the power system interface, where it supplies power to an associated load, not shown. The electrons then flow to the negatively biased cathode where electrons are ejected into the space plasma, thus completing the electric circuit.

A composite schematic of the complex array of physical effects and characteristics observed in the near environment of the TSS satellite.

Theory and Experiment H.H Brito

Two series of tests were conducted during the period of 1993-1997 by Hector Hugo Brito, that under the assumption of Minkowskis EnergyMomentum, tensor being the right one (Abraham-Minkowsckoi ntroversy) the electromagnetic field can modify the inertial properties of the generating device given suitable charge and current distributions. This experiment consists of mounting the device as a seismic mass top a mechanical suspension. By supplying a periodic voltage to the coils at a Frequency close to the fundamental frequency of the seismic suspension the expected mechanical effect from inertia variation would cause the fixture to resonate, adding up to the micro seismic noise induced vibration. Practically in all cases, the results consistently point to a mechanical vibration induced by matter-electromagnetic field momentum exchange as predicted by Minkowskis formulation after all other sources of vibration were taken into account or removed when possible.

H H. Brito concluded that:

Propellantless propulsion, as a mechanism not requiring reaction mass or beamed power, does not seem to be out of reach, unless from the theoretical point of view. Space-time warping (and the involved enormous energies) is not necessary, provided inertia manipulation become feasible, within the framework of a mass tensor formalism.

Momentum exchange tether

This sub-set represents an entire area of research using a spinning conductive and/or non-conductive tether to throw spacecraft up or down in orbit (like a sling), thereby transferring (or taking) its momentum. The act of spinning a long tether end-for-end creates a controlled acceleration on the end-masses of the system and a tension in the tether. This spin is manipulated by control of the angular frequency. From this, momentum exchange can occur if an endbody is released at the right point during the controlled rotation. The transfer in momentum to the released object will cause the tether system to lose (or gain) orbital energy, and lose (or gain) altitude (and may require reboosting) or change orbital planes; and the opposite to happen to the released mass. When in a magnetic field, such as in low earth orbit, when using an electrodynamic tether it is possible to re-boost without the expenditure of consumables. Other schemes involve balancing the momentum flow (such as catching and releasing payloads at almost the same time), or using conventional rocket propulsion or ion drives.

Graphic of the US Naval Research Laboratory's TiPS tether satellite

Momentum-Exchange/Electrodynamic-Reboost (MXER) tether systems can provide propellantless propulsion for a wide range of missions, including: orbital maneuvering and stationkeeping within Low Earth Orbit (LEO); orbital transfer of payloads from LEO to GEO, the Moon, and Mars; and eventually even Earth-to-Orbit (ETO) launch assist. By eliminating the need for propellant for in-space propulsion, MXER tethers can enable payloads to be launched on much smaller launch vehicles, resulting in order-of-magnitude reductions in launch costs. In order for MXER tethers to achieve their potential in real-world application, several key technologies must be developed and demonstrated, including space-survivable tethers incorporating both high-strength and conducting materials, technologies for rendezvous with and grappling of payloads, and techniques for predicting and controlling tether rotation and dynamics.

Icarus Student Satellite

First (real) student built, designed, and tested satellite Part of the tethered satellite propulsion model Was scheduled to be launched March/May 2001 Advantageous since it is an instrumented endmass as opposed to a passive dead weight Helps prove NASAs cheaper/faster/better solution model

ProSEDS Propellant-less Small Expendable Deployer System Drives current through the tether Deploys endmass (Icarus) Icarus (ProSEDS Endmass) Dead weight (~20 kg +/- 0.4 kg) Used to study tether physics Possible backup in case of ProSEDS failure

GPS, Magnetometer provide location information GPS unit uses the GPS satellite network Magnetometer compares the magnetic readings at present location against the current model of the Earths magnetic field Together, both units provide a complete measurement of the physics of the Endmass

Control and Data Handling Subsystems

Octagon systems 386 board assimilates the information, sends it to the transmitter
Power: 3.0 W Memory: 2.64 MB total
2 MB DRAM 512 kB FLASHROM 128 kB SRAM (battery backed)

A/D: 8 channels, 12 bit accuracy Serial Ports: 2 UART 16C550 chips with RS-232 voltage level Digital I/O: 24 channels (TTL) Operating Temperature: -40 to 85 C

Custom C&DH Board performs tasks required specifically by the Endmass

Analog MUX used to multiplex A/D channels provides 23 total channels Platform for Health Data Collection Power and Data Connections for all Subsystems 2 4-Orbit Timers in Series 2 21-Day Timers in Parallel GSE Data Connection GPS Hard Reset Switch

Power and Electrical Subsystems

Power Distribution System Solar Cells Used to provide main power to the Endmass in day-side of the orbit (8 W) and to charge the batteries Total power provided ~16 W Batteries (Ni-Cd) Used to provide main power to the Endmass in Eclipse (~8 W)

Magnetomete r 3 Analog Values Sampled 1/sec Health System Thermistors, Currents, Voltages Sampled 1/min

C&DH System

Octagon 386
A/D MUX MEM Dig I/O on/off Digital bit stream Connection: TTL

Serial Port Serial Port

Transmitte r

GPS Sampled 1/ 2 sec Connection: RS-232


Ground Support Equipment Development and Testing Connection: RS-232

Outputs assimilated data from the Octagon board @ ~2.247 GHz Ground stations at various locations around the world are set up to receive the data from this transmitter The data is then relayed back to the Icarus team for analysis and conclusions

System Level Diagram

Power Path Data Path Control

Solar Cells


Separatio n Switches

8 bits

C&DH Payloa d
GPS Receiver Magnetometer
Chip 25 MHz ROM 512 kB RAM 2 MB V = 5.0 V DC I = 185 mA V = 5.0 V DC I = 11 mA SRAM 128 kB

4 orbit 21 day timer timer Telemetr y

Transmitter (2.2475 GHz)


V = 5.0 V DC I = 650 mA

Power Distribution
GPS Almanac Data tethe r U of M GSE

V = 12.0 VDC I = 400 mA Tether attachment point


Structural Layout
Magnetometer PAA

GSE Connector

C&DH and Computer board component stack

GPS antenna wire feed through

Tether attach hole pattern

Power Distribution and GPS board component stack

Transmitter antenna wire feed through


Battery box

Mission Plan
T=+60 min Power-up, Release T=~3 hours Tether Deployment T=? Instrument Measurements T=+1 day ETD Deployment

T=0 March/May 2001 Delta-II Launch!

T=21+ days Reentry

Icarus in Development

Students in Lab working on Icarus Winter, 2000

Icarus at NASA/MSFC for Vibration Testing - May, 2000

U.S. Patent 6,116,544, "Electrodynamic Tether And Method of Use CP458, Space Technology and Applications International Forum Wikiflight gear Icarus journal Quantum potential

Thank You!!