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Scientists and engineers are making progress towards an alternative form of satellite propulsion, one in which satellites could re-position themselves in orbit by sailing on Earth’s surrounding tides of electro-magnitic electrons, rather than using rocket-based systems.  A recent article in Scientific American describes a resurgence of investigation into technology that was dropped by the wayside back in the mid 1980s.  The approach uses long fibers to capture Earth’s surrounding electrons and converts them into propulsive energy.

Remember that scene in Wall-e where they blast off into space and crash through the field of orbiting satellite trash?

We have over 23,000 pieces of space junk up there already, each traveling an average of 36,000 kilometers per hour.

This group wants to gather up the junk by using space tethers that create an economical and plentiful form of propulsion.

 

The tethers would “interact with Earth’s magnetic field in the ionosphere (where much of the space junk orbits) to change the satellites’ velocity and orbit; the results could possibly enable future spacecraft to move around while orbiting Earth—without having to carry unwieldy chemical propellant.”

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