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Space ISS Transportation Technology

New System Propels Satellites Without Propellants 85

cylonlover writes "Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) are testing a new propulsion system ... inside the station. While this might seem like the height of recklessness, this particular system doesn't use rockets or propellants. Developed in the University of Maryland's Space Power and Propulsion Laboratory, this new electromagnetic propulsion technology called the Resonant Inductive Near-field Generation System (RINGS) uses magnetic fields to move spacecraft as a way to increase service life and make satellite formation flying more practical."
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New System Propels Satellites Without Propellants

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  • From the article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Grantbridge ( 1377621 ) on Monday August 19, 2013 @09:17AM (#44606565)
    "Electromagnetic formation flight (EMFF) gets around this propellant problem by turning the satellites in a formation into electromagnets. By using a combination of magnets and reaction wheels, spacecraft in formation can move and change their attitude and even spin without propellant. Satellites can change their polarity to attract or repel one another, turn, or shift their relative positions in any manner that doesn't require changing the center of gravity for the entire formation." So its all about formation flying, the satellites will pull/push off each other to remain in the correct formation. They will still needs propellent to move the whole cluster, but they can stay in formation without using any fuel.
  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Monday August 19, 2013 @09:20AM (#44606581)

    Very cool technology but its not a reactionless drive sadly. The magnets merely allow a swarm of sats to hold a formation in relation to each other.

    Oh well... darned laws of physics getting in the way again!

  • by vadim_t ( 324782 ) on Monday August 19, 2013 @09:20AM (#44606583) Homepage

    This is for positioning satellites relative to each other. The applications are things like telescopes made of several spacecraft to create a mirror larger than what is practical to launch in one piece.

    But this isn't an engine that will allow a satellite to stay in orbit without fuel. They still need a traditional engine with propellant for everything besides adjusting the distance between nearby satellites.

  • by Captain Hook ( 923766 ) on Monday August 19, 2013 @09:22AM (#44606589)

    Sounds like this is basically only useful to help maintain a low-power consumption orbit of heavenly bodies with strong magnetic fields(aka just earth in our solar system).

    You are right, but there are currently about 6000 man made satellites in orbit (only about half of which are functional) and only 70 odd probes which go beyond earths magnetosphere so it's not like a huge number of vehicles couldn't use this technology. Especially since Satellite life times are normally limited by propellant they can carry

    Also, just off the top of my head Jupiter and Saturn have magnetospheres.

  • Re:MTBs (Score:5, Informative)

    by Yoda222 ( 943886 ) on Monday August 19, 2013 @09:33AM (#44606677)

    MTB generate only torque. Here they speak of propulsion system. But if I understand correctly the article, it's more about changing the relative position/attitude of two (or more) spacecraft than "real" propulsion of one spacecraft alone. It's a technology for formation flying

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.