New way to keep tiny satellites in orbit

(ORDO NEWS) — Collected mainly by undergraduate students and launched into space last Sunday, the Cubesat is intended to investigate the possibility of using a new propulsion system that will keep tiny satellites in orbit around Earth for a long time without using fuel. This, in turn, will make it possible to form permanent constellations from tiny satellites to monitor, for example, storms and natural disasters.

A loaf-sized cubesat was sent into space from the Mojave Air Port, USA, by Virgin Orbit.

Small satellites are an important current trend in the development of the satellite technology market, however, unlike their larger counterparts, most tiny satellites cannot withstand the resistance of the Earth’s rarefied atmosphere in orbit, and therefore their orbit quickly degrades, and they usually last several days or weeks. less often – several months. As a rule, the mass of a tiny satellite at launch is critical, so such models are not equipped with propulsion systems that use rocket fuel.

To solve the problem of adjusting the orbit of small satellites, students and faculty of the University of Michigan, USA, propose to create a thrust that lifts the satellites up, not by throwing a gas jet in the opposite direction, but by using electromagnetic forces.

The idea is to connect two tiny satellites, each about the size of a cell phone, using a wire 10 to 30 meters long, through which an electric current supplied by solar panels can pass in both directions, and the ends of this wire are closed in the Earth’s ionosphere. When a current flows through a wire in a magnetic field, a force acts on the conductor from the side of this magnetic field. The team plans to use this force to create the necessary thrust to correct the orbit of the satellites.

The first experimental version of such a pair of satellites, called MiTEE-1: The Miniature Tether Electrodynamics Experiment-1, launched into space on Sunday, includes two satellites, one the size of a loaf of bread and the other the size of a large smartphone, connected by a rigid deployable mast. about 1 meter long. As this project develops, it is planned to increase the length of the conductor to 10 meters, project participants said.

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