Certificate of Registration Media number Эл #ФС77-53688 of 17 April 2013. ISSN 2308-6033. DOI 10.18698/2308-6033
  • Русский
  • Английский

Analysis of the performance of electrodynamic tethers with autonomous electron generation

Published: 09.08.2020

Authors: Bechasnov P.M.

Published in issue: #8(104)/2020

DOI: 10.18698/2308-6033-2020-8-2010

Category: Aviation and Rocket-Space Engineering | Chapter: Innovation Technologies of Aerospace Engineering

Currently, electric rocket engines have largely reached the efficiency limits determined by the principle of rocket thrust. Electrodynamic tethers, interacting with an external magnetic field and actually being jet engines, are devoid of such restrictions. However, their thrust is limited by the concentration of the external plasma and depends on its fluctuations. The paper is the first to propose to create a current in the tether by propellant ionization, receiving a large thrust from a relatively short tether and a strong magnetic field deflecting charged cosmic particles. The numerical analysis showed that the length of the tether of hundreds of meters near the Earth provides a specific impulse of up to hundreds of kilometers per second and its proper acceleration of the power plant at a level of 0.01 m / s2, as well as protection of the central region of the tether from particles with an energy of more than 1 MeV. This makes it possible to consider it for maneuvering satellites with practically no restrictions on the delta-V, for performing fast high-energy inter-orbital flights and for radiation protection of a high-latitude orbital station. In the future, such a tether can be used for rapid deceleration of orbital objects, launching into geostationary orbit, interplanetary transfers and protection of objects from charged particles. The study describes possible areas of application and directions for further research of the concept of such a tether.

[1] Drell S.D., Foley H.M., Ruderman M.A. Drag and Propulsion of Large Satellites in the Ionosphere: An Alfven Propulsion Engine in Space. Journal of Geophysical Research, 1965, vol. 70, no. 3, pp. 3131‒3145.
[2] Martinez-Sanchez M., Hastings D.E. A Systems Study of a 100kW Tether. Journal of Astronautical Sciences, 1987, vol. 35, pp. 75–96.
[3] Fietzke F., Morgner H., Gunther S. Magnetically enhanced hollow cathode — a new plasma source for high-rate deposition processes. Plasma processes and polymers, 2009, vol. 6, pp. S242–S246.
[4] Samanta Roy R.I., Hastings D.E. Theory of plasma contactor neutral gas emissions for electrodynamic tethers. Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, 1992, vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 405‒414.
[5] Bombardelli C., Pelaez J., Sanjurjo M. Asymptotic Solution for the Current Profile of Passive Bare Electrodynamic Tethers. Journal of Propulsion and Power, vol. 6, no. 6, 2010, pp. 1291‒1304.
[6] Fuhrhop K.R., West B., Choinière É. Current Collection to Electrodynamic-Tether Systems in Space. 2nd International Energy Conversion Engineering Conference, 16‒19 August 2004, Providence, Rhode Island. Available at: (accessed December 20, 2019). DOI: 10.2514/6.2004-5670
[7] Stone N., Bonifazi C. The TSS-1R mission: Overview and scientific context. Geophysical Research Letters, 1998, vol. 25, no. 4, pp. 409‒412.
[8] Sanny J., Tapia J.A., Sibeck D.G., Moldwin M.B. Quiet-time variability of the geosynchronous magnetic field and its response to the solar wind. Journal of Geophysical Research, 2002, vol. 107, no. A12 (1443), pp. SMP16-1–SMP16-10.
[9] Andrews D.G., Zubrin R. Magnetic Sails and Interstellar Travel. Paper IAF-88-553, 1988. Available at: (accessed December 20, 2019).
[10] Beletskiy V.V., Levin E.M. Dinamika kosmicheskikh trosovykh system [Dynamics of space tether systems]. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1990, 336 p.
[11] Bonometti J.A., Sorensen K.F., Jansen R.H. Free Re-boost Electrodynamic Tether on the International Space Station. 41st AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference & Exhibit, 10‒13 July 2005, Tucson, Arizona.
[12] Pearson J., Levin E., Carroll J.A., Oldson J.C. Orbital Maneuvering with Spinning Electrodynamic Tethers. 2nd International Energy Conversion Engineering Conference, 16‒19 August 2004, Providence, Rhode Island.
[13] Cornogolub A., Underwood C., Voigt P. Rigid-boom Electrodynamic Tethers for Satellite De-orbiting and Propulsion. Journal of British interplanetary Society, 2018, vol. 71, pp. 234‒238. Available at: (accessed December 20, 2019).