New RINGS electromagnetic propulsion tech being tested by the University of Maryland’s Space Power and Propulsion Laboratory (SPPL) on the International Space Station could revolutionise the capabilities of satellites and future spacecraft by reducing reliance on propellants and extending the lifecycle of satellites through the use of a renewable power source.

Because a finite propellant payload is often the limiting factor on the number of times a satellite can be moved or repositioned in space, a new propulsion method that uses a renewable, on board electromagnetic power source and does not rely on propellants could exponentially extend a satellite’s useful life span and provide greater scientific return on investment.

Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering Ray Sedwick and his research team have been developing technology that could enable electromagnetic formation flight (EMFF), which uses locally generated electromagnetic forces to position satellites or spacecraft without relying on propellants. Their research project, titled Resonant Inductive Near-field Generation System (RINGS), was sent to the International Space Station on 3 August.

RINGS is composed of two units, each of which contains a specially fabricated coil of aluminium wire that supports an oscillating current of up to 18 amps and is housed within a protective polycarbonate shell. Microcontrollers ensure that the currents oscillateeither in-phase or out-of-phase to produce attracting, repelling and even shearing forces.

In addition to EMFF, the RINGS project is being used to test a second technology demonstrating wireless power transfer, which may offer a means to wirelessly transfer power between spacecraft and in turn power a fleet of smaller vessels or satellites.

RINGS achieved the first and only successful demonstration of EMFF in full six degrees of freedom to date. Check it out in this video…

Source: University of Maryland