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

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

This faculty research team has students tasked with the design a nanospacecraft and space mission that will help us better understand the feasibility of a novel propulsion technology – miniature electrodynamic (ED) tethers – as means to provide propellant-less 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 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 surround ionosphere and flows through the conducting tether generating thrust) central to the system’s operation.

The MiTEE team is currently on track to launch its first spacecraft (i.e., MiTEE 1) on December 1st of 2017. In 2018, the MiTEE team will immediately begin work on their more ambitious second satellite: MiTEE 2. This project will be to create a spacecraft with an operational ED tether for the first experimental testing of propellantless operation in space.

NOTE: Students who join this faculty research team will become de facto members of S3FL, (Student Space Systems Fabrication Lab).

Students who successfully match to this faculty research team will be required to sign the following document in January 2018:

Student IP Agreement for Faculty Research Teams

2018 Terms and Conditions

How to Apply

Project Features

  • Skill level All levels
  • Students 7-17 Students
  • 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 (1 Student)

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

    • Likely Majors: ME, AERO, EE
  • Command & Data Handling Subteam (3 Students)

    Specific Tasks: embedded system design, programming Preferred Skills: any experience with embedded system software/hardware design

    • Likely Majors: ME, EE, CSE/CS-LSA, CE
  • Structures, Mechanical, & Thermal Subteam (4 Students)

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

    • Likely Majors: ME, AERO, ANY
  • Apprentice Researcher (2 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, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science 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: