Magazine article USA TODAY

A Propellant-Free Propulion System

Magazine article USA TODAY

A Propellant-Free Propulion System

Article excerpt

NASA plans to lasso energy from the Earth's atmosphere with a tether as part of the first demonstration of a propellant-free space propulsion system, potentially leading to a revolutionary space transportation system. Scientists and engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., are experimenting with tethers as part of a continuing effort to reduce the cost of space transportation dramatically. Flight demonstration of the Propulsive Small Expendable Deployer System--called ProSEDS--is scheduled for August, 2000. ProSEDS is one of the Future-X flight experiments selected by NASA to help mold the future of space transportation.

The experiment will demonstrate the use of an electrodynamic tether--basically a long, thin wire--for propulsion. An electrodynamic tether uses the same principles as electric motors in toys, appliances, and computer disk drives, as well as generators in automobiles and power plants. When a wire moves through a magnetic field, an electrical current results. The unique type of electrical circuit created by the flow of electricity through the wire results in a magnetic field that drags or pushes on an external magnetic field.

An electrodynamic tether works as a thruster because a magnetic field exerts a force on a current-carrying wire. When electrical current flows through a tether connected to a spacecraft, the force exerted on the tether by the magnetic field raises or lower's the orbit of the satellite, depending on the direction the current is flowing. …

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