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NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts

E-Glider: Active Electrostatic Flight for Airless Body Exploration

Completed Technology Project
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Project Description

The E-Glider (electrostatic Glider) is a small vehicle that levitates above the surface of an asteroid after extending strands of metallic film, forming the wings, so that it becomes “airborne”, but in the electrostatic vacuum lofting around the asteroid. By articulating the wings, the E-Glider can now hover, and maneuver around, without touching the surface. It is the first circumnavigation of an airless body by electrostatic forces, opening new avenues for low-cost, persistent, reconnaissance of airless bodies, leading to effective global scale prospecting of mineral-rich asteroids.

The environment near the surface of airless bodies (asteroids, comets, Moon) is electrically charged due to Sun's photoelectric bombardment. Charged dust is ever present, even at high altitudes (dust fountains), following the Sun's illumination. We envisage the global scale exploration of airless bodies by a gliding vehicle that experiences its own electrostatic lift and drag by its interaction with the naturally charged particle environment near the surface. This Electrostatic Glider (E-Glider) lifts off by extending thin, charged, appendages, which are also articulated to direct the levitation force in the most convenient direction for propulsion and maneuvering. It thus carries out its science mission by circumnavigating the small body, and it lands, wherever it is most convenient, by retracting the appendages or by thruster/anchor.

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