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“RING Leaders” in Space – Testing a New Propulsion Idea

RINGS achieved the first and only successful demonstration of EMFF in full six degrees of freedom to date. Pictured, graduate student Dustin Alinger (left) and RINGS on board NASA’s reduced gravity airplane. Credit: Univ. of Md.

The RINGS Team. Pictured left to right – Graduate students Dustin Alinger and Allison Keong Porter, and Associate Professor Ray Sedwick. Credit: Univ. of Md.

A research project — Resonant Inductive Near-field Generation System, or RINGS – is a new electromagnetic propulsion technology.

The idea could revolutionize the capabilities of satellites and future spacecraft by reducing reliance on propellants and extending the lifecycle of satellites through the use of a renewable power source.

The technology is being tested by the University of Maryland’s Space Power and Propulsion Laboratory (SPPL) – not just in a lab or during microgravity stints on an aircraft…but on the International Space Station (ISS).

Science sessions

RINGS was lofted to the ISS on August 3, part of the payload aboard Japan’s cargo ship dispatched from the Tanegashima Space Center for docking with the orbiting facility.

Astronauts will soon unpack the equipment, integrate it into the test environment and run diagnostics. RINGS then will undergo three science research sessions where data will be collected and transmitted back to the ground for analysis.

Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the university, Ray Sedwick and his research team, have been developing technology that could enable electromagnetic formation flight (EMFF), which uses locally generated electromagnetic forces to position satellites or spacecraft without relying on propellants.

Wireless power transfer

In addition to EMFF, the RINGS project is also being used to test a second technology demonstrating wireless power transfer (WPT), according to a university press release.

WPT may offer a means to wirelessly transfer power between spacecraft and in turn power a fleet of smaller vessels or satellites.

Inside the ISS, two RINGS vehicles will be used to develop and test EMFF control algorithms in a full six degree-of-freedom microgravity environment.

The RINGS project is funded under a joint NASA/Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program that aims to demonstrate and develop new technologies that could enable future space missions by using a network of smaller spacecraft.

Collaborative effort

The RINGS project has been a collaborative effort between Univ. of Md./SPPL and partners from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Aurora Flight Sciences (AFS).

MIT’s SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage Re-orient Experimental Satellites) program provided SPPL an existing test bed of miniature satellites and control algorithms that will be used to integrate and test the RINGS technology.

AFS has provided hardware development and support for the integration of RINGS onto the SPHERES platform.

By Leonard David


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