Grid-sphere electrodes have been proposed for use on the positively biased end of electrodynamic space tethers. A grid-sphere electrode is fabricated by embedding a wire mesh in a thin film from which a spherical balloon is formed. The grid-sphere electrode would be deployed from compact stowage by inflating the balloon in space. The thin-film material used to inflate the balloon is formulated to vaporize when exposed to the space environment. This would leave the bare metallic spherical grid electrode attached to the tether, which would present a small cross-sectional area (essentially, the geometric wire shadow area only) to incident neutral atoms and molecules. Most of the neutral particles, which produce dynamic drag when they impact a surface, would pass unimpeded through the open grid spaces. However, partly as a result of buildup of a space charge inside the grid-sphere, and partially, the result of magnetic-field effects, the electrode would act almost like a solid surface with respect to the flux of electrons. The net result would be that gridsphere electrodes would introduce minimal aerodynamic drag, yet have effective electrical-contact surface areas large enough to collect multiampere currents from the ionospheric plasma that are needed for operation of electrodynamic tethers. The vaporizable-balloon concept could also be applied to the deployment of large radio antennas in outer space.

This work was done by Nobie H. Stone and Garrett D. Poe of SRS Technologies for Marshall Space Flight Center. For further information, contact Sammy Nabors, MSFC Commercialization Assistance Lead, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Refer to MFS-32567-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2010 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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