Using Tethers to Protect Earth from Asteroid Impacts

These photos show the relative size of three asteroids that have been imaged at close range by spacecraft. Mathilde (37 x 29 miles) (left) was taken by the NEAR spacecraft on June 27, 1997. Images of the asteroids Gaspra (middle) and Ida (right) were taken by the Galileo spacecraft in 1991 and 1993, respectively. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/NEAR and Galileo missions

NEW YORK (Springer PR) — Our planet exists within the vicinity of thousands of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), some of which — Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) — carry the risk of impacting Earth causing major damage to infrastructure and loss of life. Methods to mitigate such a collision are highly desirable.


Saber Astronautics Tests Satellite De-orbiting Tether

Saber Astronautics employees test their DragEN satellite de-orbiting tether in microgravity. (Credit: Bill Stafford)
Saber Astronautics employees test their DragEN satellite de-orbiting tether in microgravity. (Credit: Bill Stafford)

AUSTIN, Texas, Feb. 19, 2014 (Saber AstronauticsPR) — Saber Astronautics, a space technology and analytics company based in Austin TX, recently passed NASA flight tests for a product that addresses the growing threat of “space junk”. The device, called “DragEN”, unrolls a conductive space tether which uses the magnetic field of the Earth to gently drag a dead satellite back to Earth allowing it to burn up safely in the atmosphere at the end of its life.

The rapid growth in the launch of small satellites by governments, universities and commercial interests is dramatically increasing the amount of hardware in low Earth orbit. “Without technologies like the DragEN for safely returning these spacecraft to Earth at the end of their mission life cycles, the danger of space debris will continue to grow exponentially,” Saber Astronautics’ Dr Timothy Meehan cautioned.


JAXA Develops Electrodynamic Tether to De-orbit Space Debris

jaxalogoJAXA will test a 300-meter (1,000-foot) long electrodynamic tether in space next month that is designed to reel in and de-orbit space debris.

The idea is that one end of the strip will be attached to one of the thousands of dead satellites or bits of rocket that are jamming up space and endangering working equipment.

The electricity generated by the tether as it swings through the Earth’s magnetic field is expected to have a slowing effect on the space junk, which should, scientists say, pull it into a lower and lower orbit.

Eventually the detritus will enter the Earth’s atmosphere, burning up harmlessly long before it has chance to crash to the planet’s surface.

“The experiment is specifically designed to contribute to developing a space debris cleaning method,” said Masahiro Nohmi, associate professor at Kagawa University, who is working with JAXA on the project, told AFP.

The tether will be launched on Feb. 28 as a secondary payload aboard an H-2A rocket. The main goal is to extend the tether in orbit and observe the transfer of energy. Engineers will attempt to reel in space debris with future tethers.

Read the full story.

Tethers Unlimited to Develop 3D Printed Spacecraft With Embedded Radiation Shielding

Tethers_Unlimited_LogoBothell, WA, 19 September 2013 (TUI PR) — Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) has signed a contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to develop technologies to enable 3D printing of spacecraft structures with embedded radiation shielding. Under this Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract, TUI will develop its patent pending processes for creating structural elements containing an internal layered composition of polymers and metals that is exceptionally efficient at absorbing space radiation. This “Versatile Structural Radiation Shielding” (VSRS) technology takes advantage of the flexibility of 3D printing to enable rapid and affordable fabrication of customized parts that minimize the mass required to shield spacecraft electronics.


Tethers Unlimited Awarded NIAC Phase II Contract

The NIAC SpiderFab project is developing technologies to enable robotic spacecraft to fabricate giant antennas, solar arrays, and telescopes in space. (Credit: TUI)
The NIAC SpiderFab project is developing technologies to enable robotic spacecraft to fabricate giant
antennas, solar arrays, and telescopes in space. (Credit: TUI)

Bothell, WA, 29 August 2013 (TUI PR) – NASA announced today that the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program has selected Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) for award of a $500,000 Phase II contract to continue
development of its “SpiderFab™” technologies for in space fabrication of spacecraft components.


Space Access ’11: Gerry Nordley on Tethers

Gerry Norley
Tethers Unlimited

  • Still in business, still making money…working on a number of projects
  • satellite end-of-life terminator tape — works on electromagnetic drag and physical drag
  • designed for small class of satellites
  • have conducted microgravity testing on aircraft
  • Rustler system — a net that can be deployed over debris…they put net over it, grab the satellite, and attach a tether to it that can adjust altitude or bring it down into atmosphere
  • Company existing on military contracts and SBIRs

NASA Funds Space Tether Research as Part of SBIR, STTR Programs

NASA recently announced that it would be conducting contract negotiations for 350 projects under its SBIR and STTR programs, which are aimed at promoting space technology development and transfer by small businesses. Parabolic Arc will be looking at a number of the proposals involving NewSpace companies that it regularly covers or which encompass interesting technologies.

This post looks at proposals put forth by Tech-X Corporation of Colorado and Tethers Unlimited of Washington for the purposes of de-orbiting and maneuvering spacecraft and reducing orbital debris. Two of the projects involve tethers, while a two others focus on developing magnetoplasmadynamic (MPD) thrusters and predicting hall thruster operational lifetimes. Tethers Unlimited has an additional project involving integrated power, propulsion, and pointing for CubeSats for which there is no public information.


Space Elevator Update: ’08 Conference, DeltaX and Space Pirates

Three brief updates from the Space Elevator Blog….

Participants can now register for the 2008 Space Elevator Conference, which will be held in Redmond, Washington on July 18-20.

The blog also has an interview with Team DeltaX and Nanocomp, which entered a carbon nanotube tether in last year’s Space Elevator Games. DeltaX’s Stephen Steiner and David Lashmore of Nanocomp discuss their joint efforts. DeltaX has a great heritage: it comes out of MIT.

The Kansas City Space Pirates, another competitor in the Space Elevator Games, reports that their new sponsor, Thorlabs, will provide most or all of the group’s “optical needs.”