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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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  • Magsails? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by shawnhcorey ( 1315781 ) on Monday August 19, 2013 @09:08AM (#44606521) Homepage
    Why don't they just use magsails []?
  • by Urkki ( 668283 ) on Monday August 19, 2013 @09:31AM (#44606649)

    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!

    Well, good thing it is not reactionless... I mean, if it were reactionless drive, then it would just move the Earth without moving the spacecraft, and what good would that be?

  • Re:Magsails? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Monday August 19, 2013 @10:23AM (#44607121)
    The wiki article says those are merely proposed. This sounds closer to being a real thing. Why would they prefer a purely fictional technology?

    Also, TFA mentions

    According to an MIT study [PDF], when EMFF is perfected, it will have a wide number of applications including interferometers, space telescopes where each satellite carries a section of mirror, generating artificial gravity, creating a magnet shield against solar radiation storms, and clearing space debris by using their spin to toss the debris into a safer trajectory.

    It sounds like this is useful for pushing stuff around in space at near distances, including non-autonomous propulsion such as junk, while magsails are (in theory) useful for moving only the cargo around over large distances, at slower accelerations.

  • by ninjabus ( 3024459 ) on Monday August 19, 2013 @11:22AM (#44607753)
    It's actually extremely awesome. Lets say a group of satellites is falling out of position. We could launch a single 'anchor' satellite loaded to the brim with propellant which would be able to effectively stabilize the rest of the constellation. That means the rest of the satellites can be launched with less propellant, making the system simpler and costs lower for everyone.
  • THat's nothing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Monday August 19, 2013 @02:13PM (#44609555)

    THis is just changing the orientation of subunits and spacing of subunits without changing the center of mass. It would not seem magical if theywere connected by gears. Here they are doing it with magnetic coupling. But there's no "propulsion" since that implies changing the center of mass.

    the chinese have a method for massless propulsion however: []

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