A New Satellite tv for pc Is Going to Attempt to Preserve low Earth Orbit With out Any Propellant

A New Satellite Is Going to Try to Maintain low Earth Orbit Without Any Propellant

Staying afloat in space can be deceptively difficult. Just ask the characters of Gravity or any number of hundreds of small satellites that will drop into the atmosphere in any given year. Any object in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) must constantly fight the drag caused by the small number of air molecules that make it up to that altitude.

They usually counteract this force with small amounts of propellant. However, smaller satellites do not have the luxury of having enough propellant to keep them afloat for any length of time. Now a team of students from the University of Michigan has launched a prototype satellite that tries to stay afloat using a novel technique – magnetism.

The project, known as the Miniature Tether Electrodynamics Experiment (MiTEE), was launched today on Virgin Galactic's flight out of the Mojave Desert. The interdisciplinary team consists of PhD students at the UofM. This is the first project the team has started and it is the culmination of six years of effort.

Video describing the details of the mission and why it differs from the existing propulsion methods.
Photo credit: University of Michigan

These efforts resulted in a novel satellite (or, more precisely, a pair of satellites) that tests an even newer idea – that satellites that are small enough can use the Earth's magnetic field to achieve low lift.

To test this theory, the team developed a pair of satellites, one about the size of a loaf of bread and the other the size of a smartphone, connected by a wire link. A current is then induced in this wire and physics can work its magic.

One of the MiTEE team members, Mayukh Nath, a computer engineering student, takes a look at the prototype of the satellite before launch.
Photo credit: Robert Coelius / Michigan Engineering

One of the basic laws of electromagnetism is that when a current is present in a magnetic field, the magnetic field exerts a force on the conductor that contains the current. Since the Earth's magnetosphere is present up to LEO, a magnetic field is also present there. MiTEE plans to use the current in the tether between its two satellites to push the paired satellites up and fight the combination of drag and gravity pulling them down.

For the first version, which launches this weekend as MiTEE-1, there will be a single 1 meter long rigid boom connecting the two satellites. It will focus on measuring how much current, if any, can be induced by the ionosphere, another feature of the space immediately surrounding the earth. Follow-up projects would test the tether for its use as an actual antenna and try to measure whether it would be possible to completely hover a pico satellite system without propellant.

Another video from the students' perspective describes some of the challenges they faced with the project.
Photo credit: University of Michigan

It will likely take a couple of years for a second system to work as all of the staff for this project are college volunteers. In the meantime, they will have a lot of data to analyze and hopefully they will be a big cause to celebrate when MiTEE-1 starts collecting data after a successful start.

Learn more:
UofM – pioneering work to keep very small satellites in orbit
MiTEE homepage
SmallSat News – U of Michigan students use MiTEE Cubesat to keep very small satellites in orbit
New Atlas – CubeSat for testing the use of the earth's magnetic field for propulsion

Lead Image Credit: CC0 Public Domain

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