Mechanisms for Tether-Powered Space Vehicles

Period of Performance: 04/30/1999 - 04/10/1999


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Star Technology and Research, Inc.
3213 Carmel Bay DriveSuite 200
Mount Pleasant, SC 29466
Principal Investigator

Research Topics


The Air Force needs an autonomous service vehicle to inspect, repair, upgrade, or refuel future satellites configured for on-orbit servicing. Such a vehicle must be very low mass, with a high power output for electric propulsion. Conventional ion rockets or arcjets may not have the delta-V/mass ratio required for the mission. Star Technology and Research, Inc. proposes a concept of a maneuvering satellite that requires no expenditure of fuel for fulfilling Air Force orbital service missions. The mechanism to accomplish this is an advanced electrodynamic tether powered by lightweight solar panels to allow repeated orbital maneuvers without using propellant. Controlling the current flow in the tether allows complete control of the orbit. The vehicle could transport satellites from one orbit to another, and could service vehicles beyond low Earth orbit. In this Phase I investigation, the satellite concept is developed, its operational envelope is examined, and potential Air Force applications are evaluated. A proof-of-concept experiment is proposed for a low-cost space demonstration.