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Cornell To Study Planetary Magnetic Fields Propulsion Research Under NASA Grant

Here is how a spacecraft taking advantage of Lorentz-actuated forces would work. Spacecraft naturally acquire a charge as they travel through a planetary body's surrounding plasma, but the charge is typically not very high. Thus, to achieve a useful force, it must boost its charge by emitting charged particles (such as ions or electrons) via a high-energy beam. As a suitably "charged" Lorentz-enabled spacecraft orbits a planet, the planetary magnetic field naturally deflects the spacecraft's path toward a direction perpendicular to the magnetic field lines, which also affects the spacecraft's velocity.

It does this in much the same way as electromagnetic forces steer the electron beam in the old cathode-ray TV sets to paint the picture on a TV screen. The effect is greater near the north and south poles where the magnetic field is denser. Since planetary magnetic fields rotate with the planet, that perpendicular acceleration can lie in a direction that adds energy to the spacecraft's orbit. The results are remarkable: without propellant, a spacecraft can achieve new earth orbits, cancel out atmospheric drag, and establish new stable satellite formations. This means of propulsion can allow freight and passengers to be transported throughout the solar system, using planetary magnetic fields as stepping stones from planet to planet.

by Staff Writers
Ithaca NY (SPX) Feb 28, 2007
Dr. Mason Peck from the Cornell University College of Engineering received a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I $75,000 award to study an innovative idea for altering spacecraft orbits in future missions. His paper, Lorentz-Actuated Orbits: Electrodynamic Propulsion without a Tether, made a compelling case for merging the small-scale physics of dust moving in a plasma and large-scale physics of planetary orbits to enable propellant-less spacecraft propelled by planetary magnetic fields.

Without the burden of traditional fuel, tomorrow's spacecraft could stay in orbit longer, saving commercial and government satellite missions billions of dollars in replacement spacecraft. Dr. Peck's idea for electrodynamic propulsion using Lorentz forces also introduces new possibilities for altering orbits and cost-effective extended missions that can be used for earth observations, communications satellites, weather monitoring, military applications and interplanetary exploration.

Expanding upon established research in the physics of particles in a magnetic field, Dr. Peck describes how a spacecraft can be made to accelerate in a direction perpendicular to a magnetic field, as do all electrostatically charged objects to some degree.

Evidence of Lorentz forces in action appears, for example, in new images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft: the rings of Jupiter and Saturn contain dust particles whose orbits are governed by these forces. Dr. Peck proposes to exploit this natural behavior on a larger scale, allowing spacecraft to be propelled by the same principle.

Here is how a spacecraft taking advantage of Lorentz-actuated forces would work. Spacecraft naturally acquire a charge as they travel through a planetary body's surrounding plasma, but the charge is typically not very high.

Thus, to achieve a useful force, it must boost its charge by emitting charged particles (such as ions or electrons) via a high-energy beam. As a suitably "charged" Lorentz-enabled spacecraft orbits a planet, the planetary magnetic field naturally deflects the spacecraft's path toward a direction perpendicular to the magnetic field lines, which also affects the spacecraft's velocity.

It does this in much the same way as electromagnetic forces steer the electron beam in the old cathode-ray TV sets to paint the picture on a TV screen. The effect is greater near the north and south poles where the magnetic field is denser. Since planetary magnetic fields rotate with the planet, that perpendicular acceleration can lie in a direction that adds energy to the spacecraft's orbit.

The results are remarkable: without propellant, a spacecraft can achieve new earth orbits, cancel out atmospheric drag, and establish new stable satellite formations. This means of propulsion can allow freight and passengers to be transported throughout the solar system, using planetary magnetic fields as stepping stones from planet to planet.

Dr. Peck is seeking to collaborate with other professionals on future research in the areas of dusty plasma physics, ionospheric physics, and the physics of self-capacitive materials such as real-charge electrets.

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NASA Issues Ares I Upper Stage Production Request For Proposal
Huntsville, AL (SPX) Feb 26, 2007
Friday NASA issued a request for proposal for the Ares I launch vehicle upper stage element. Ares I is the launch vehicle that will transport the Orion crew exploration vehicle and its crew and cargo to low Earth orbit. The upper stage proposals are due to Marshall Space Flight Center no later than 1 p.m. CDT April 13, 2007.







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