Snap-proof space tether

Apr 02, 2013
This scanning electron microscope image shows the new design of an ultra-thin and hopefully snap-proof solar sail tether soon to be tested on Estonia’s ESTCube-1, which is being launched into orbit along with ESA’s Proba-V satellite on the next Vega rocket in April. Harnessing manufacturing techniques from the microelectronics industry, this aluminium tether measures just 50 micrometres across – across half the diameter of the average human hair – with a smaller 25 micrometre wire interweaved onto it. Welding such small wires together was once considered impossible but a University of Helsinki team applied ultrasonic welding techniques. This interweaving technique will hopefully keep the tether intact to run an electric charge down it, even if all but one subwires in the tether are cut by micrometeoroids in orbit. Credit: Henri Seppänen

(Phys.org) —Space tethers hold intriguing potential for satellite manoeuvring, attitude control and even power generation. But about half of all orbital tether tests have either failed to deploy or snapped, probably due to micrometeoroid impacts.

This image shows the new design of an ultra-thin and hopefully snap-proof tether soon to be tested on Estonia's ESTCube-1, which is being launched into orbit along with ESA's Proba-V satellite on the next Vega rocket in April.

Harnessing manufacturing techniques from the microelectronics industry, this aluminium tether measures just 50 micrometres across – across half the diameter of the average human hair – with a smaller 25 micrometre wire interweaved onto it.

The University of Helsinki's interweaving technique, with several wires joined together every centimetre, will hopefully keep the tether intact to run an electric charge down it, even if all but one subwires in the tether are cut.

Designed, built and operated by the students of several Estonian universities and led by the University of Tartu with Tartu Observatory, ESTCube-1 is part of ESA's Plan for Cooperating States agreement with Estonia, a one-year programme of activity taking place as a prelude to the country joining ESA as a Member State.

The electric solar sail, or 'E-sail' being tested by this CubeSat mission, passes electricity through wires such as these to generate which in turn generate momentum.

In low orbit, E-sails could be used as brakes to deorbit satellites. Beyond Earth's magnetic field, satellites could one day make use of the solar wind to gain a nearly free ride across the Solar System.

ESTCube-1 will unfurl a 10 m-long single-strand E-sail to show its potential as a compact and economical deorbiting method, measuring the resulting force acting on the E-sail as it comes into contact with . A 100 m E-sail will fly on Finnish student CubeSat Aalto-1 next year.

Explore further: Successful engine test enables SpaceX Falcon 9 soar to space station in Jan. 2015

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

EU project to build Electric Solar Wind Sail

Dec 09, 2010

The European union has selected the Finnish Meteorological Institute to lead an international space effort whose goal is to build the largest and fastest man-made device.

NASA to test new solar sail technology

Oct 14, 2011

Solar sails, much like anti-matter and ion engines appear at first glance to only exist in science fiction. Many technologies from science fiction however, become science fact.

YES2 student payload released from Foton-M3

Sep 25, 2007

The Second Young Engineers’ Satellite (YES2) was activated and separated from the Foton-M3 spacecraft earlier today. The tether deployed for 8.5 km, after which the Fotino capsule was released on its way to Earth.

NASA's Nanosail-D 'sails' home -- mission complete

Nov 30, 2011

After spending more than 240 days "sailing" around the Earth, NASA's NanoSail-D -- a nanosatellite that deployed NASA's first-ever solar sail in low-Earth orbit -- has successfully completed its Earth orbiting ...

Recommended for you

The top 101 astronomical events to watch for in 2015

Dec 24, 2014

Now in its seventh year of compilation and the second year running on Universe Today, we're proud to feature our list of astronomical happenings for the coming year. Print it, bookmark it, hang it on your ...

NASA image: Frosty slopes on Mars

Dec 24, 2014

This image of an area on the surface of Mars, approximately 1.5 by 3 kilometers in size, shows frosted gullies on a south-facing slope within a crater.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.