Abstract

A new class of ultra-small satellites is emerging as a response to growing capabilities to integrate more functionality into an ever smaller volume. The satellites are categorized as picosatellites (100 g–1 kg) and femtosatellites (<100 >g) and, due to their small size, they can be much less expensive to launch into orbit. In particular, it may be possible to deploy them in large numbers to enable missions requiring a distributed fleet of sensor spacecrafts (e.g., distributed aperture, simultaneous spatial sampling). However, without some degree of propulsion, these spacecraft would behave more as an uncontrolled swarm rather than a coordinated, controlled formation. Further, lifetime is limited for lowmass spacecraft with high area-to-mass ratios. This paper shows that a short, electrodynamic (ED) tether is capable of providing propellantless drag cancellation and even the ability to change orbit to picosatellites and femtosatellies in a range of altitudes in LEO. The ED tether can also be used as an antenna for communication to ground. Additionally, the paper describes the Miniature Tether Electrodynamics Experiment (MiTEE) CubeSat mission being developed to test the fundamental concept of short ED tethers for miniature spacecraft.

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Aug 6th, 11:00 AM

Miniature Electrodynamic Tethers to Enhance Picosatellite and Femtosatellite Capabilities

A new class of ultra-small satellites is emerging as a response to growing capabilities to integrate more functionality into an ever smaller volume. The satellites are categorized as picosatellites (100 g–1 kg) and femtosatellites (<100>g) and, due to their small size, they can be much less expensive to launch into orbit. In particular, it may be possible to deploy them in large numbers to enable missions requiring a distributed fleet of sensor spacecrafts (e.g., distributed aperture, simultaneous spatial sampling). However, without some degree of propulsion, these spacecraft would behave more as an uncontrolled swarm rather than a coordinated, controlled formation. Further, lifetime is limited for lowmass spacecraft with high area-to-mass ratios. This paper shows that a short, electrodynamic (ED) tether is capable of providing propellantless drag cancellation and even the ability to change orbit to picosatellites and femtosatellies in a range of altitudes in LEO. The ED tether can also be used as an antenna for communication to ground. Additionally, the paper describes the Miniature Tether Electrodynamics Experiment (MiTEE) CubeSat mission being developed to test the fundamental concept of short ED tethers for miniature spacecraft.