Fri. May 14th, 2021

A cubesat, primarily designed by undergraduate students as well as planned to be launched on Sunday, will investigate the feasibility of the proposed propulsion system that could allow small satellites to travel without bringing fuel across Earth’s orbit. This might open the way for small satellites that, for example, remain in space for long periods and work in swarms, hurricane tracking and natural disasters. A cubesat is really about the size of the loaf of bread built for a big task of hitching a ride into orbit. Cubesats are reduced-cost ways to check emerging technology or encourage students to explore space exploration in a hands-on way.

MiTEE is expected to fly on the Virgin Orbit’s Launch Demo 2 from Mojave Air as well as Space Port. Although the Planet atmosphere is much heavier on the ground, the dispersion of air particles reaches all the way up to the low orbit of Earth, the domain of around 60% of Earth-orbiting satellites. The drag of the upper atmosphere impacts tiny satellites more intensely than big satellites, reducing their orbits and forcing them to fall toward the Earth.

Brian Gilchrist, who works as a professor of the electrical engineering and computer science, who oversaw the group, stated, “These relatively small spacecraft just wouldn’t last long, perhaps even days to a few weeks, or a few months, depending on how high exactly they are.” But, unlike the larger satellites, most tiny satellites are unable to fight against drag. Usually, acceleration is accomplished by moving something else in the opposite direction of movement, but this involves bringing more material that adds extra weight and is a scarce resource on the spacecraft.

But since tiny satellites are so lightweight, a new means of propulsion could be able to reap the benefits of them. They could be able to utilize the more complex laws of the electromagnetism, instead of relying on the Newton’s equal-and-opposite responses to drive about. The team is researching the concept of tying two small mobile phone-sized satellites 10-30 meters long with a cable that can move current in any path utilizing solar panel power and close the electrical circuit across the ionosphere of the Planet. Whenever a wire induces a current, magnetic force is exerted on the wire in a magnetic field.

The team wants to use the energy from Earth’s gravitational field to ascend higher in space, trying to compensate for the atmospheric drag. The first studies to test the theory would be on MiTEE-1: The Miniature Tether Electrodynamics Experiment-1 CubeSat satellite. Over its span of six years, the prototype that was released was developed and created by over 250 students. Engineers, as well as technicians from U-M Space Physics Research Laboratory, mentored them. A deployable, flexible boost, one meter high, from one satellite that has the size of a bread box to another, with a large smartphone size, would be the version deploying now.

By Adam