NASA Issues Grant to Design Tether Deployment System for Nano-Satellites
[Satellite TODAY 09-19-12] NASA has issued a $100,000 grant to technology firm Tethers Unlimited to develop a design for the deployment of nano-satellites using a tether, the agency announced Sept. 19.
The NASA-supported concept is called NanoThor, which would place a nano-satellite in a geo-transfer orbit as a secondary payload with a larger satellite. The nano-satellite would be extended along a high strength tether, which would be set to spinning using residual fuel from the launch vehicle. NASA said the momentum of the swinging tether would greatly enhance the delta V of the nano-satellite, which would combine the high specific impulse of electric ion engines and short transfer times inherent in using a chemical rocket. The nano-satellite would be released into an Earth escape trajectory, to the moon, an asteroid, or another planet. The tether would be deorbited to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
NASA said that, if successful, it could send entire fleets of nano-satellites into space at a fraction of the cost of using more conventional robotic probes.