Designing a nanospacecraft and space mission will help us better understand the feasibility of a novel propulsion technology miniature electrodynamic (ED) tethers as 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. The Miniature Tether Electrodynamics Experiment (MiTEE) team is demonstrating this propulsion technology in space for the first time. MiTEE launched its first satellites in 2021 and the team is designing the next generation.

Traditional space missions employ one or a few massive spacecraft that make
sophisticated, remote, or in situ singlepoint measurements. However, coordinated fleets (tens to hundreds) of relativelysimple picoor femtosats could provide the gamechanging ability to perform simultaneous, multipoint measurements in space or, alternatively, compose elements in a sparse, spacebased, 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.

The key questions MiTEE will help us understand are 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 successfully launched its first spacecraft (
i.e.,MiTEE 1) which will create future opportunities for campaignstyle data collection. In 2022, in addition to science operations, the MiTEE team is working 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 the Student Space Systems Fabrication Lab (S3FL).

Meeting time and location:

For academic credit, our MDP team meets Sundays at 1:00pm–4:00 pm ET. Our lab is located at the Climate and Space Research Building; Online meeting options are available as needed. Each subteam arranges a convenient time to meet and work together following university guidelines. A two-term commitment will begin January 2022.

Team organization:

This team has flexible subsystem teams that allow students to deepen their learning. Each MiTEE subsystem team has a Lead that reports to and meets once per week with the other Leads and the MiTEE Systems team (Chief Engineer, Lead Systems Engineer, Project Manager, and faculty PI). The teams are flexibly structured to enhance creativity and opportunity for student growth.

More Information

First-year undergraduates through masters graduate students are welcome to apply, and all will be encouraged to stay on the team for more than the two-semester minimum. Leadership roles are available in the lab, and experienced students will be a natural fit for these positions as their knowledge grows over time.

Electrical Power Subteam (3 Students)

Specific Tasks: Circuit design, prototyping

Preferred Skills: Electrical engineering, any circuit building experience

Likely Majors: Electrical Engineering, Computer Science (CSE/CS-LSA)

Plasma Electrodynamics Subteam (2 Students)

Specific Tasks: Circuit design, prototyping, charged prototyping, charged particle reactions, plasma physcis, materials science

Preferred Skills: Electrical engineering, knowledge of electromagnetism, any circuit building experience

Likely Majors: Climate and Space Sciences (CLASP)Computer Science (CSE/CSLSA), Electrical Engineering, Engineering Physics, Material Science, Mechanical Engineering, Nuclear Engineering

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, physicsbased electro magnetism coursework beneficial

Likely Majors: Climate and Space Sciences (CLASP), Computer Science (CSE/CS-LSA), Electrical EngineeringComputer Engineering, Nuclear Engineering

Orbit Attitude Determination & Control Systems (3 Students)

Specific Tasks: Dynamic modeling/analysis, control system design, sensor validation

Preferred Skills: Attitude Modeling, Electrical engineering, any circuit building experience, any programming experience

Likely Majors: Aerospace Engineering, Climate and Space Sciences (CLASP), Electrical Engineering ,Computer Science (CSE/CSLSA), Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering

Command & Data Handling Subteam (4 Students)

Specific Tasks: Embedded system design, programming

Preferred Skills: Any experience with embedded system software/hardware design

Likely Majors: Computer Science (CSE/CSLSA), Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering

Structures, Mechanical, & Thermal Subteam (2 Students)

Specific Tasks: Mechanical design, machining/prototyping, heat transfer and mechanical modeling

Preferred Skills: Experience with manufacturing and structural analysis, materials selection, and CAD experience helpful

Likely Majors: Mechanical Engineering, Materials Sciences, Aerospace EngineeringComputer Science (CSE/CSLSA), Computer Engineering, Climate and Space Sciences (CLASP)

Apprentice Researcher (4 Students)

Requirements: Interest in project material, willingness to develop skills.
Open to first-year and second-year undergraduate students ONLY.

Likely Majors: Any

Faculty Sponsor

Brian Gilchrist

Brian Gilchrist
Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Co-Advisor, Multidisciplinary Design Program

Dr. Gilchrist is a professor in the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Climate and Space Science and Engineering. He also serves as the director of the Space Physics Research Laboratory (SPRL). He specializes in plasma electrodynamic sensors and technological applications principally for in-space applications. Dr. Gilchrist’s 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 at the forefront of efforts to develop space tether technology for scientific and technological applications including electrodynamic tethers as a new propellantless space propulsion technology.

Students: 12-16

Likely Majors: AERO, Any, CLASP, CE, CS, Data Science, EE, Material Science, ME, Nuclear, Physics

Summer Opportunity: Summer research fellowships may be available for qualifying students.

Citizenship Requirements: This project is open to all students on campus.

IP: Students who successfully match to this project team will be required to sign an Intellectual Property (IP) Agreement prior to participation in January 2021.

Course Substitutions: Honors

Location: Remote positions available: All roles are available for remote participation.