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Center Innovation Fund: MSFC CIF

Development Lorentz Force Propulsion Feasibility Study

Completed Technology Project
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Project Description

Project Image  Development  Lorentz Force Propulsion Feasibility Study

An electric charge on a spacecraft will interact with the Earth's magnetic field & produce a Lorentz force. Previous research indicates this force can allow spacecraft to maneuver without the use of propellant. Key to this method "of propellantless propulsion" is the level of charge on the spacecraft that can be sustained. Challenges include achieving the charge level, maintaining it, & knowing when to apply the force. This effort combines analysis with testing to address all the challenges. Throughout the Space Age, spacecraft maneuvers in orbit have been limited by the need for propellant. The ability to maneuver without propellant would be a revolutionary breakthrough in space technology. Satellite servicing, orbital debris removal, unlimited station-keeping & the routine reassignment of spacecraft to other orbits would all become possible. Unlimited propulsion is possible with the Lorentz Force spacecraft. The TRL level of this propulsion method currently is between 1 & 2(speculative and limited to paper studies). This task will raise the TRL level to between 3 & 4(analytic studies and laboratory-based studies to achieve proof-of-concept and element integration). Recent research indicates that an electric charge on a spacecraft can allow spacecraft to maneuver without the use of propellant. Other related recent research has developed methods of guidance for this force(when to turn it on & off to optimize the effect). This task proposes to build on that promising research. Spacecraft in orbit routinely develop a negative or positive electric charge through interaction with space plasma, a process that is monitored closely for missions such as ISS because it can adversely affect spacecraft instruments. The idea behind the Lorentz spacecraft is to use the charge on the spacecraft for propulsion through its interaction with the magnetic field. A static electric charge on a spacecraft will interact with the Earth's magnetic field to create a force. The force is a function of the spacecraft's velocity, the local magnetic field, & the charge on the spacecraft. Solid research has shown that this force is real & can be detected. To make the method more effective, a higher charge is desirable, which is the opposite of the typical approach of minimizing it. Thus this task will focus on methods of building a charge on a spacecraft & maintaining it by using the expertise with spacecraft charging of Joe Minow & Linda Parker(EV44)/Natural Environments for analysis.

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