Miniature Tether Electrodynamics Experiment (MiTEE) Proof-of-Concept Space Mission Design

Miniature Tether Electrodynamics Experiment (MiTEE) Proof-of-Concept Space Mission Design


This VIP team has students tasked with the design of a nanospacecraft and space mission that will help us better understand the feasibility of a novel propulsion technology – miniature electrodynamic (ED) tethers – a means to provide propellantless propulsion to new classes of very small satellites known as picosats and femtosats. Picosats and femtosats can be the size of your smartphone and smaller. Traditional space missions employ one or a few massive spacecraft that make sophisticated, remote, or in situ single-point measurements. However, coordinated fleets (tens to hundreds) of relatively-simple pico- or femtosats could provide the game-changing ability to perform simultaneous, multi-point measurements in space or, alternatively, compose elements in a sparse, space-based, reconfigurable antenna array. These capabilities could fundamentally transform the monitoring of natural disasters, space weather, and the broader space environment. Propellantless propulsion technology could allow these small satellites to maneuver and maintain their orbits and formations without the need for large amounts of propellant and storage tanks. Studies have shown that electrodynamic tethers may be that key enabling propellantless propulsion technology. This team is working to demonstrate this exciting propulsion technology in space for the first time.

The key questions MiTEE will answer will help us understand the physical dynamics (how it moves) and electrodynamics (how current is attracted from and emitted to the surrounding ionosphere and flows through the conducting tether, generating thrust) central to the system’s operation.

More Information: 2017-MiTEE

Students who successfully match to this faculty research team will be required to sign the following document in January 2017:

Student IP Agreement for Faculty Research Teams


NOTE: Students who join this VIP research team will also become de facto members of S3FL, (Student Space Systems Fabrication Lab), check below for more information.

S3FL Student Checklist:

SOP Quiz

Students must complete a short quiz regarding S3FL standard operating procedures.

Redmine Account Registration

Students must register to obtain a Redmine account.

OSEH Training

Students must complete the required OSEH training.

Lab Tour

Students must participate in a short 30-minute tour of the Student Space Systems Fabrication Lab.


An abstract must be written and submitted at the end of the semester, which will include things such as: description of work accomplished during the semester, problems that arose and corresponding solutions, improvements, as well as work that still needs to be completed


Students are required to complete four hours of outreach during the semester

Design Review

Students must attend a non-MiTEE S3FL Design Review. They must also present during a MiTEE Design Review.

How to Apply

Project Features

  • Skill level All levels
  • Students 10-19
  • Likely Majors AERO, Any, CE, CS, ECE, EE, ME
  • Course Substitutions ME 590, ECE Cognate
  • IP & NDA Required? Yes
  • Summer Opportunity Summer Funding Application
  • Electrical Power Subteam (3 Students)

    Specific Tasks: circuit design, prototyping Preferred Skills: electrical engineering, any circuit building experience

    • Likely Majors: ANY
  • Plasma Electrodynamics Subteam (2 Students)

    Specific Tasks: circuit design, prototyping Preferred Skills: electrical engineering, knowledge of electromagnetism, any circuit building experience

    • Likely Majors: ANY
  • Communications Subteam (2 Students)

    Specific Tasks: circuit design, prototyping, wireless communication system design Preferred Skills: any experience with electromagnetism/wireless communications, taking/taken EECS 230, taken/taking EECS 411/430

    • Likely Majors: ANY
  • Attitude & Orbital Dynamics Subteam (3 Students)

    Specific Tasks: dynamic modeling/analysis, control system design, validation Preferred Skills: electrical engineering, any circuit building experience

    • Likely Majors: ME, AERO, EE, ECE
  • Command & Data Handling Subteam (1 Student)

    Specific Tasks: embedded system design, programming

    • Likely Majors: ME, EE, CSE/CS-LSA, CE, ECE
  • Structures, Mechanical, & Thermal Subteam (3 Students)

    Specific Tasks: mechanical design, machining/prototyping, heat transfer and mechanical modeling Preferred Skills: experience with manufacturing and structural analysis

    • Likely Majors: ME, AERO
  • Apprentice Researcher (5 Students)

    Requirements: interest in project material, willingness to develop skills. OPEN TO FRESHMEN AND SOPHOMORES ONLY.

    • Likely Majors: ANY

Faculty Sponsor: Brian GilchristBrian Gilchrist
Professor and Co-Advisor, Multidisciplinary Design Program

Professor Gilchrist specializes in plasma electrodynamic sensors and technological applications principally for in-space applications. His research efforts span in-space plasma measurements, ground-based chamber simulations of high-speed space plasma flows principally to investigate current collection and sheath physics, and the development of advanced space electric propulsion applications. He is in the forefront of efforts to develop space tether technology for scientific and technological applications including electrodynamic tethers as a new propellantless space propulsion technology. Prior to receiving his Ph.D., Prof. Gilchrist held industry R&D and management positions over a twelve year period developing numerous microwave components and sub-systems including the first integrated microwave sampler for aerospace applications.

The full text of Prof. Gilchrist’s research experience (excerpted above) can be found at: