Bothell, Wash.-based Tethers Unlimited says it will provide key communications and propulsion capabilities to Southwest Research Institute in support of a NASA mission to study how the sun’s corona whips up the solar wind.
Tethers Unlimited’s SWIFT-XTS software-defined radio will be used for telemetry and control of the four suitcase-sized microsatellites that will conduct a mission known as PUNCH (Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere). And the company’s HYDROS-C water-electrolysis thruster will serve as the satellites’ propulsion system.
Last year NASA selected Southwest Research Institute, which has centers in Colorado and Texas, to lead the mission.
“Procuring these complete spacecraft subsystems ‘off-the-rack’ is critical to the PUNCH science,” Craig DeForest, a solar scientist at SwRI who serves as the mission’s principal investigator, said today in a news release. “The growing commercial ecosystem for space enables a constellation of four separate high-capability spacecraft, within the cost of a single traditionally-built satellite.”
The satellites will orbit Earth in formation to study how the corona, which serves as the sun’s outer atmosphere, infuses the solar wind with mass and energy. PUNCH’s satellites are due for launch as early as 2022.
Founded in 1994, Tethers Unlimited specializes in space technologies ranging from small-satellite propulsion and communications to 3-D printing and robotics for in-space manufacturing.
Its SWIFT-XTS radio is a compact S-band receiver coupled with a high-speed X-band transmitter, capable of being configured to support a wide range of mission requirements.
The HYDROS-C thruster uses an onboard electrolysis system to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and then burns those propellants to create thrust. The “green propellant” system is safe for handling during preparations for launch, and could conceivably be refueled with water from the moon or near-Earth asteroids during future exploration missions.
For the PUNCH mission, the thrusters will be used for orbital positioning and stationkeeping.
“Understanding how the sun drives the solar wind is critical to understanding how the sun influences space weather near the Earth as well as the fundamental processes that create solar systems,” said Rob Hoyt, Tethers Unlimited’s president. “Tethers Unlimited is proud and excited to have an opportunity to contribute our unique communications and propulsion technologies to enable these tiny spacecraft to accomplish such an important scientific mission.”
Last month, Colorado-based Amergint Technology Holdings announced that it acquired Tethers Unlimited, which will continue to operate under existing management in Bothell as a subsidiary.
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