New technology could revolutionize satellite use

August 15, 2013
New UMD Tech Could Revolutionize Satellite Use

( —New technology being tested by the University of Maryland's Space Power and Propulsion Laboratory (SPPL) on the International Space Station could revolutionize the capabilities of satellites and future spacecraft by extending their lifecycle through the use of a renewable power source.

Finite storage for propellants—a chemical used in the production of energy—is often the limiting factor on the number of times a satellite can be moved or repositioned in space. However, a new propulsion method that uses a renewable, onboard electromagnetic power source, and does not rely on propellants, could exponentially extend a satellite's useful life span and provide greater scientific return on investment.

Ray Sedwick, associate professor of at UMD, and his research team have been developing technology that could enable electromagnetic (EMFF), which means using locally generated to position satellites or spacecraft without relying on propellants. Magnetic forces and torques are generated by circulating electrical current through a coil attached to each vehicle which can be used to reorient the satellites relative to one another. Their research project is titled Resonant Inductive Near-field Generation System, or RINGS.

RINGS was sent to the International Space Station on August 3 on a Japanese resupply spacecraft and is scheduled for four test sessions on the research station. Astronauts will unpack the equipment, integrate it into the test environment and run diagnostics. From there, RINGS will undergo three science research sessions where data will be collected and transmitted back to the ground for analysis.

In the spring of 2013, RINGS was tested for the first time in a on NASA's reduced gravity aircraft. UMD graduate students Allison Porter and Dustin Alinger were on hand to oversee the testing. RINGS achieved the first and only successful demonstration of EMFF in full six degrees of freedom to date.

"While reduced gravity flights can only provide short, 15-20 second tests at a time, the cumulative test time over the four-day campaign provided extremely valuable data that will allow us to really get the most from the test sessions that we'll have on the International Space Station," said Sedwick.

In addition to EMFF, the RINGS project is also being used to test a second technology demonstrating wireless power transfer (WPT). WPT may offer a means to wirelessly transfer power between spacecraft and in turn power a fleet of smaller vessels or satellites.

Explore further: Research update: SPHERES to get powerful magnets and goggles

More information: Space Power and Propulsion Laboratory

Related Stories

NASA's OPALS to beam data from space via laser

July 11, 2013

( —NASA will use the International Space Station to test a new communications technology that could dramatically improve spacecraft communications, enhance commercial missions and strengthen transmission of scientific ...

NASA prepares for 3-D manufacturing in space

June 3, 2013

( —In preparation for a future where parts and tools can be printed on demand in space, NASA and Made in Space Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., have joined to launch equipment for the the first 3-D microgravity printing ...

Recommended for you

NASA telescope studies quirky comet 45P

November 22, 2017

When comet 45P zipped past Earth early in 2017, researchers observing from NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility, or IRTF, in Hawai'i gave the long-time trekker a thorough astronomical checkup. The results help fill in crucial ...

Uncovering the origins of galaxies' halos

November 21, 2017

Using the Subaru Telescope atop Maunakea, researchers have identified 11 dwarf galaxies and two star-containing halos in the outer region of a large spiral galaxy 25 million light-years away from Earth. The findings, published ...

Cassini image mosaic: A farewell to Saturn

November 21, 2017

In a fitting farewell to the planet that had been its home for over 13 years, the Cassini spacecraft took one last, lingering look at Saturn and its splendid rings during the final leg of its journey and snapped a series ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Aug 15, 2013
However, a new propulsion method that uses a renewable, onboard electromagnetic power source, and does not rely on propellants, could exponentially extend a satellite's useful life span and provide greater scientific return on investment.
I wish writers would stop using "exponential" without giving an idea of what is meant.

What if the "exponent" is 1.000000000000001? or negative?

I assume something larger is meant, but what?
5 / 5 (1) Aug 15, 2013
In this case the use of the word exponential makes no sense in any case. Consider if the exponent is 2. What would "lifetime squared" even mean? The units would make no sense.

You can extend the lifetime of a sattelite by a factor of X - now THAT would make some sense.
1 / 5 (2) Aug 15, 2013
I'm not normally one to criticize language skills. However, I think you both have a point. Really it's just up to choice of wording and sadly when people write they don't always know the subject to well.
not rated yet Aug 16, 2013
So we can build an airship out of carbon nano-sheets, float it up to the edge of the atmosphere and use rings to loft it higher? We then fuse the h2 lifting gas with Oxygen, flood the Airship with air and, voila, a 300m spaceship with room to swing a cat.
The rings are wound on the outer edge of the bulkheads and are used for protection from charged particles and for propulsion.
The airship is spun on its axis to provide gravity.
The pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.
Gerard K O'Neil's plan will happen.
not rated yet Aug 16, 2013
So we can build an airship out of carbon nano-sheets, float it up to the edge of the atmosphere and use rings to loft it higher?

No, that's not even close to what they are doing here.

This won't be used to change or maintain the orbit. This is only a tool for orientation, and with no moving parts or propellant, it should last a lot longer than reaction wheels or propellant jets. It requires two or more spacecraft that use eachother's magnetic field, not the magnetic field of the Earth, to stay pointed in the direction they want to point. They will need to stay fairly close together.

This isn't much different than a transformer coil, and you don't see telephone poles shoot off into space very often. lol

not rated yet Aug 16, 2013
The concept is somewhat intrigueing.

Been mulling this for the past day how to best apply it. Have a central satellite with a power source (and fuel) and a swarm of smaller ones near-by that are reoriented as needed by the large one (reorienting it in turn in the process. But since it would be spherical and have no other function than to be an 'anchor' that wouldn't affect its function).

Advantage would be that you only have to service/refuel one, central satellite. And you could add almost as many 'child' satellites as you want

(which would also solve a bit of the congestion/collision problem in orbit - as you'd have satellites close together, but in no danger of colliding with each other)
not rated yet Aug 19, 2013
Yeah, it's interesting, for sure. You could also consolidate functionality like communications. It could cut back on redundancy. The group would only need one jet system for station keeping, which cuts down on the total mass of the group, which would save you fuel over time, and reduce launch weight.

That's assuming these coils and their power supply weigh less than station keeping jets would. Solar panels and electric coils aren't light-weight. The typical transformer on a telephone pole is quite heavy.

I suspect waste heat would be an issue too.

I guess that's why they're trying it out, to see if it'll work or not.

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.