A document discusses the concept of a demisable motor-drive-and-flywheel assembly [reaction-wheel assembly (RWA)] used in controlling the attitude of a spacecraft. “Demisable” as used here does not have its traditional legal meaning; instead, it signifies susceptible to melting, vaporizing, and/or otherwise disintegrating during re-entry of the spacecraft into the atmosphere of the Earth so as not to pose a hazard to anyone or anything on the ground. Prior RWAs include parts made of metals (e.g., iron, steel, and titanium) that melt at high temperatures and include structures of generally closed character that shield some parts (e.g., magnets) against re-entry heating.

In a demisable RWA, the flywheel would be made of aluminum, which melts at a lower temperature. The flywheel web would not be a solid disk but would have a more open, nearly-spoke-like structure so that it would disintegrate more rapidly; hence, the flywheel rim would separate more rapidly so that parts shielded by the rim would be exposed sooner to re-entry heating. In addition, clearances between the flywheel and other components would be made greater, imparting a more open character and thus increasing the exposure of those components.

This work was done by Russell Roder and Eliezer Ahronovich of Goddard Space Flight Center and Milton C. Davis III of Purdue University. GSC-14845-1