NASA Develops Magnetic Microsatellites


NASA_logo.svgBy: Garrett Speller

Manipulation of small objects in space has always been a tough nut to crack for the engineers at NASA. Current space suits are extremely cumbersome because they have to protect the astronauts from just about everything, including radiation, searing heat, cold that could cause your fingers to crack off, and then there’s space debris.  So the gloves alone are bulky and do not bend well, plus tactile sensitivity is pretty much nil.  With the hopes of solving this dilemma, NASA has recently partnered with Arx Pax, a research and development corporation, to get a toe hold on its patented magnetic field architecture technology. In theory, this technology would allow astronauts (and mission control) to manipulate micro-satellites without touching them.    This would be done through the utilization of magnet tethers (the same technology that is behind the hover board kickstarted earlier this month). The microsatellites, called CubeSats, use magnetic tethers to assemble and form larger objects. The cubes come in a 10 X 10 format, and they are currently being used for demos in space. These demos are good for scaling up, says Alex Saunders, a student currently working with the prototype cubes. “A tech firm will reach out to CubeSat researchers to test prototypes of their products in space, they’ll put them on a CubeSat, and we’ll get data back to them, so then they can say that their products were tested in space” Another application of the CubeSats technology would be the new ExoCubes that Saunders and his team developed in Cal Poly that measure ions and neutrals in the atmosphere. This is just one of many potential applications of this technology, which NASA estimates will be in use in the next couple of years. Saunders again:  “We are currently developing a number of prototypes over the next one to two years, and will be exploring alternative designs with this technology.”