A report describes an emergency tether-deployment (ETD) system designed to minimize the harm caused by two events that can occur during deployment of tethered payloads from a space shuttle in orbit. One such event is snagging of the tether during payout while the payload is near the shuttle, causing rebound of the shuttle and payload toward each, thus possibly causing a collision. The other event is recoil of a tether that must be cut while it is under tension. If not suppressed, the recoil can cause the tether to become tangled around the shuttle. The ETD system includes a tether wound on a spool in a standard pattern that minimizes friction during payout, plus a rotating-arm mechanism that prevents snagging. The ETD system can be either (1) used as a primary deployment system or (2) activated automatically through breakage of a tether tiedown in the event of a snag or when the payload is at a safe distance from the shuttle. To suppress recoil, a core of solder is inserted along part of the length of the tether. When a wave of recoil reaches this part, the solder absorbs most of the recoil energy.
This work was done by Andrew Santangelo of The Michigan Technic Corp. for Marshall Space Flight Center.