Nasa Tether Experiment

In 1996, NASA performed an experiment with a tether attached to the shuttle. At the altitude the Shuttle flies at, the air is extremely rarefied but it is not a perfect vacuum. There is a voltage gradient with altitude and in addition, the shuttle is flying through Earth’s magnetic field.

The combination of these two effects was expected to generate electricity. Now I will admit to not fully understanding the theory here because my understanding of electricity is that it requires a completed circuit for current to flow. Now on the other end of the tether there was a small satellite but still I don’t understand what completes the circuit. If the circuit completed by ionic conduction in this rarefied atmosphere, then it’s cutting across the same magnetic field lines and so no net voltage should be generated.

The only way I can see this working is by tapping the voltage gradient present in the atmosphere, but if that were the case, I’m surprised that enough current was generated to actually sever the tether given the rarefied nature of the atmosphere at that altitude.

Also it was theorized that electricity could be sent into the tether and act as a motor increasing the orbital height of as satellite without having to expend propellant. There again, without a completed circuit I don’t understand how this would work.

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Shuttle Satellite

At any rate; somehow this was supposed to generate electricity, and apparently generated a lot more electricity than expected severing the tether.

An interesting aspect of this video is that the astronaut explains the floating things as debris from the shuttle in the foreground, but if you watch these floating things you can clearly see them go behind the tether.

There are a number of things I find interesting about this video. The tether remains taught even when it’s broken. I am unclear as to what force would keep it tight. I would have expected it to recoil when it broke, but clearly that is not the case in this video.

Then there is the question of the discrepancy between the amount of electricity expected and that actually generated. It would have made more sense to me to be measuring the current as you real the tether out so that if it expectantly approaches dangerous levels, you can stop before something catastrophic happens.

It is interesting to note that in eleven years they have not chosen to repeat this experiment.

5 thoughts on “Nasa Tether Experiment”

1. Anonymous says:

hey man that rules you rule i like nasa a lot but bye for now

2. I’d really like to know why they have not repeated this experiment.

The ability to do station keeping on satellites without fuel would dramatically reduce the cost of many satellite services since maneuvering fuel is often the limit to a satellites useful life expectancy and in other cases refueling missions are expensive.

3. Anonymous says:

This could have serve 2 purposes.
1) It was an electrical experiment, as I too have came up with such a idea for generating electricity on long journeys.
2) It was attatched to a 12 mile long tether with a ball at the end. When you throw the ball, the string becomes elongated along the balls flight path. In space, there is no gravity, so the ball continues its path and the string follows. Now it’s a ruler. 12 inches, 12 miles…..now how big do you really think that “debris” can be? Some go slow, some go fast behind the ruler and in front of it. Would you not agree that some of those “craft” look to be between 1 and 5 miles wide?

4. Anonymous says:

Please look at the recent nasa news conference concerning the lcross mission to the moon. Those bunch of tards love to deny, deny, deny. Apparently they don’t like hard questions.
Check it out: