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Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

A review of space tether research

M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie
Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Glasgow, James Watt Building, Glasgow G12 8QQ, Scotland, UK
Available online 7 November 2007

The review paper attempts to provide a useful contextualised source of references for the student interested in learning about space tethers,
and their potential for propulsion of payloads in Space. The two principal categories of momentum exchange and electrodynamic tethers are
discussed, with the principal aim of establishing useful sources of fundamental theory in the literature, as well as highlighting important
technology and mission development papers. The large-scale international effort that continues to be made in the area of space tether research
is evident, with major literature contributions from the world-wide scientic and technical community. The overarching theme of the paper is
to show the richness and diversity of tether modelling that has been undertaken in recent times, and to emphasise, by means of many different
examples, that dynamics and control are the two fundamentally important aspects of all tether concepts, designs, and mission architectures.
r 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.




Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Momentum exchange tethers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
2.1. Summary of operating principles and relevant orbital mechanics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
2.2. Tether missions, constraints, and failure modes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
2.3. Dynamics of dumb-bell systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
2.4. Tether models in which exural effects are introduced . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
2.5. Control strategies and models . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
2.6. Practical tether designs and proposed system technologies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
2.7. Deployment scenarios and mission plans. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Electrodynamic tethers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
3.1. Summary of operating principles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
3.1.1. The TSS-1R mission . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
3.2. Practical electrodynamic tether designs and proposed system technologies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18

1. Introduction
The eld of space tethers has received very considerable
attention in recent decades, with many specialist articles
Corresponding author. Tel.: +44 141 330 4337; fax: +44 141 330 4343.

E-mail address: (M.P. Cartmell).

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available in the technical and scientic literature. Some of

these are reviewed in this paper, and the discussion also
covers some of the texts and handbooks available. We start
with the excellent foundation textbook by Beletsky and
Levin [1] in which the dynamics of tethers are introduced
rigorously, in a progressive and pragmatic manner. The
book starts by setting the scene for tethers in space by


M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

summarising possible applications and also by discussing

fact and ction in such a way that the reader new to tethers
is soon clear about the important fundamental parameters
such as material density, strength, and orbital location, and
how these can trade off. The book then moves on to
develop equations of motion for a exible tether with end
masses and massless and massive variations, along with
perturbational and certain environmental effects. The
tether is then investigated within the Newtonian eld and
the dynamics examined in terms of stability and oscillatory
behaviour. Atmospheric probes, electrodynamic (ED)
tethers, libration and rotation, deployment and retrieval,
and lunar anchored and satellite ring systems serve to
complete the coverage of the book. A very useful set of
references is also provided, up to the publication year of
1993. A chapter on the orbital mechanics of propellantless
propulsion systems, by McInnes and Cartmell is given in
the more general astrodynamics text [1], and this covers
both solar sails and tethers, as technologies with the
potential to overcome the constraints of propulsion based
on reaction, and in the tether application this is by
momentum balance through the system. The chapter
reviews some of the more well-known missions that have
own to date and then moves on to summarise the
performance expectations of hanging, librating, and spinning tethers, setting them in the context of results extant in
the literature. Gravity gradient stabilisation is re-examined,
and the well-known literature result for sub-span tension
for a short hanging tether on a circular orbit is obtained
and re-cast into the notation of [1]. The motorised tether
concept is introduced next, and the equation of motion for
a simple motorised dumb-bell on a circular orbit is derived,
leading into the more general non-planar case. Payload
transfer concepts, including the use of staged tethers (crossreference with [24]) are discussed and further useful
references are cited. There have been several general short
article expositions of tether technology during the last few
decades appearing in widely different areas of the
literature, starting with a particularly accessible and
notable example from Bekey [5]. In this summary discussion Bekey gives some of the history of the subject, with
good reference to missions up to 1983 and those planned
for a few years after. Principles of momentum exchange
and electrodynamics are outlined and useful data is
provided. This paper also discusses speculative applications
for cryogenic propellant storage and transfer, two-dimensional tethered constellations, the construction of a passive
space facility in which platforms are separated by tethers
giving a possible work volume within, payload orbit raising
and lowering, and a two-tether elevator for transfer from
LEO to GEO. In a similar vein Carrolls paper of 1985 [6]
also sets out the history of space tethers with a useful,
applications orientated, introduction to the theory in which
the important Lunavator concept of Moravec [7] appears,
with this further explained and applied by Forward [8], and
applied again by Cartmell and Ziegler [9], noting also the
more recent summaries given in [10,11]. It is also interesting

to consider tethers acting as tension members within solar

sail structures, and also applied as links between highaltitude sails and lower-altitude payloads. Further work on
complex tethered systems has led to the notion of the space
web, where multiple tethers are set up to comprise an
intricate web-like structure, McKenzie and Cartmell [12]
and McKenzie [13]. Carrolls paper [6] also highlights
aerodynamic applications where a tethered balloon could
exploit atmospheric braking to lower a higher-altitude
space plane, and altitude juggling whereby a sortie vehicle
is raised and lowered by means of a local closed orbit
controlled by a variable length-spinning tether. Carroll [6]
also introduces intriguing concepts of momentum transfer
with celestial bodies, which are examined a little further
later on. The major contribution to space tether research
made by Robert L. Forward cannot be overestimated, and
a short and digestible article by Forward and Hoyt in
Scientific American in 1999 [14] rst showed the ingenious
concept behind the use of multiple, staged tethers to
increase velocity without the necessity of extreme design,
for EarthMoon payload transfer; note also the later
contributions of [4,10,15]. US mission plans for tethers
were reviewed in 1999 and summarised in a short paper by
Johnson et al. [16], in which the use of ED tethers for
reusable upper stages was to be demonstrated during the
ProSEDS mission. This had been planned as a conductive
tether, for electromagnetic orbital adjustment, approximately 15 km in length with 10 km of it insulated and the
remaining 5 km as bare conductor. The mission was
scheduled to be own along with a launch of a Global
Positioning System satellite in spring 2003, but was
ultimately cancelled, initially because of concerns about
potential collision with the ISS. An interesting comparative
study of in-space propulsion performance for 1 year crewed
Mars mission in 2018 was reported in 2001 by Rauwolf et
al. [17]. This comprehensive study undertook to examine
contender propulsion technologies: chemical, bimodal
nuclear thermal rocket, high-power nuclear electric,
momentum tether/chemical hybrid, solar, solar/chemical,
and variable specic impulse magnetoplasma rocket
(VASIMR). This paper concluded that tether-based mission scenarios looked attractive in terms of performance
but the two concerns of technology immaturity and
operational complexity militated against a projected 2018
application. This important conclusion certainly underlines
the need for continued international effort in all aspects of
tether science and technology. Also in 2001 a major new
proposal emerged as a result of a US-based research
collaboration led by NASA Marshall Space Flight Center,
and was reported by Sorensen [18]. This paper introduced
an ingenious concept in which both momentum exchange
and ED reboost could be used for propellantless orbital
transfer. This Momentum eXchange Electrodynamic Reboost (MXER) principle relies on the tether rotating as it
travels on an elliptical orbit, catching a payload in LEO,
and then transferring this to a higher orbit after, say, one
period. The electrodynamics would be used to re-boost the

M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

tether over a period of several weeks prior to the next cycle.

This has the potential for a high-performance orbital
transfer with essentially free re-boost, and the Final Report
[19] of 2003 shows that survivability and ight validation
issues are of primary importance, but that the necessary
science base and the basic contributory technologies are
more or less in place for mission development to continue.
In 2006, Bonometti et al. [20] conrmed that MXER
continues development within the NASA In-Space Propulsion Technology (ISPT) programme; note also Ref. [21,22].
Tethers and debris mitigation were brought to the fore in
2001 in a useful paper by van der Heide and Kruijff [23], in
which limitations of use are dened particularly for deorbiting applications in terms of susceptibility to orbital
debris. This paper also discusses the potential problem of
tethertether collisions with a suggestion that when
considering de-orbiting missions then 40 constellation deorbits per year corresponds to approximately 4 tethers in
space at the same time, which could feasibly be coordinated
in order to avoid tethertether collisions. Further work on
tether survivability has been carried out by Draper [24] in
which a range of statistical methodologies for life prediction from the literature were critically compared and a
revised proposal made, with some potential for practical
use highlighted. In addition to the environmental effects of
debris and other degrading phenomena tethers and
associated payloads are extremely vulnerable to destabilisation because of astrodynamic and other perturbational
effects. Practical application of any tether system in space
requires a high level of stability control, and the stability of
a spinning generalised satellite acted upon by the gravity
gradient and constant torques is examined by Sarychev et
al. [25]. Importantly, it is shown in this paper that stable
equilibria can exist for many general values of the inertial
parameters of the satellite. There is a large literature on
tethers, and the subset of this which deals with dynamics
and control is also substantial, with many models
proposed, together with a very large number of associated
analyses of potential dynamic performance. Dumb-bell
models tend to proliferate, for a range of different
momentum exchange congurations in which the tether
and payload system is assumed to behave predominantly as
a rigid body. Whilst this is a somewhat questionable
assumption, and certainly not the case for all phases of
deployment and operation, it maybe has some merit for
initial studies of new ideas, and many numerical results are
obtainable in the literature for such models, some of which
are cited here. A paper by Cartmell et al. [26], dealing with
applications of the multiple scales perturbation method to
weakly nonlinear dynamical systems, proposes approximate analytical solutions for relatively simple dumb-bell
models. Numerical solutions to these, and allied models,
are discussed in Section 2. The remainder of the paper is
divided into two main sections, dealing with momentum
exchange tethers and ED tethers, and then completing with
some conclusions and a list of 122 references. The
momentum exchange discussions in Section 2 offer a

summary of operating principles and relevant orbital

mechanics, then a sub-section on tether missions, constraints, and failure modes. After that the dynamics of
dumb-bell systems, tether models in which exural effects
are introduced, control strategies and models, practical
tether designs and proposed system technologies, and
nally deployment scenarios and mission plans are all
investigated and commentaries provided on each topic. The
third section on ED tethers is split into two sub-sections,
offering a summary of operating principles and one of the
principal missions carried out to date, and then practical
tether designs and proposed system technologies.
2. Momentum exchange tethers
2.1. Summary of operating principles and relevant orbital
Eiden and Cartmell [27] have summarised briey the
possible role of a European roadmap for non-conductive
tethers, nominally based on momentum exchange, and also
for conductive tethers in which electrodynamics, and
possibly momentum exchange, provide propulsion. In the
case of the former class small and large payload de-orbit
are seen as near term goals, with free-ying tethered
platforms and articial gravity systems in the mid-term,
followed eventually by spinning tethers providing interplanetary propulsion. Gravity gradient stabilisation is an
important underpinning phenomenon when considering
spacecraft stability, and this is particularly the case for long
momentum exchange tethers. The work by Cartmell et al.
[26] considers dumb-bell models for momentum exchange
tethers, and offshoots and developments of this work have
shown conclusively that hanging, librating, and spinning
tether motions are intimately connected to this fundamental phenomenon (refer to Section 2.7 for more on this
theme, particularly [11]). An analytical solution for planar
librations of a gravity stabilised satellite by Hablani and
Shrivastava [28] shows that a perturbational type of twoterm solution can be developed to predict the pitching
librations of an arbitrary gravity stabilised articial rigid
satellite in an eccentric orbit. This followed over a decade
of extensive international work on this type of problem and
the results in [28] show that periodic responses for librating
systems are necessarily important and form the spines of
the systems integral manifolds [29]. Gravity gradient
stabilisation of tethers is discussed in depth in [1,10] and
features explicitly and implicitly in a very large number of
publications in the eld, many of which appear here in this
review. An important paper by Kyroudis and Conway [30]
considered the propulsion advantages of using an elliptically orbiting, tethered dumb-bell system for geosynchronous satellite transfer over the conventional non-tethered
impulsive Hohmann transfer. This was done by forming
the planar equations for the system and solving them
numerically, notwithstanding that the analysis neglected
the tether mass and assumed dissimilar end masses in the


M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

form of the space shuttle at one end and a satellite payload

at the other. In general tether propulsion performance was
found to improve by using a long tether and a highly
eccentric orbit, and this mode showed signicant improvements over a reasonably comparable Hohmann transfer.
Further work on using tether-based transfers was reported
by Lorenzini et al. [2] in their landmark paper in which
staged tethers in resonant orbits are proposed as being
more mass efcient than single tether systems, with a mass
ratio of 1:3 using current materials. Earlier work on staged
tethers is usefully summarised in [3] by Hoyt and Forward.
Lorenzini et al. [2] briey refer to tether orbit raising results
cited by Carroll [31] for radial separation as a function of
tether length, and conclude that spinning staged tethers
could provide an ideal transfer rate of ve transfers per
year. The transfer rate of a staged system is determined by
the periodic realignment of the apsidal lines of the two
stages, whereas in the case of a single tether it is dependent
on the time required for re-boosting the stage. Orbit raising
predictions for tethers are discussed further in Section 2.7
[11]. Continuing with the theme of propulsion of a small
payload tethered to a large mass in the form of a space
station or large shuttle, Pascal et al. [32] investigated the
laws of deployment and retrieval by means of a threedimensional rigid body model of a dumb-bell tether in both
circular and elliptical orbits. Several laws are proposed and
analytical solutions for small planar and non-planar
motions of the tether are given, showing that equilibrium
tension can be stated as a function of instantaneous tether
length and corresponding axial acceleration, for which
control laws can be stipulated. It is shown that deployment
is generally stable whereas retrieval is not. Various laws are
examined for deployments and retrievals, and also for
crawler congurations in which the end payload moves out
along a pre-deployed tether and how this can mitigate the
inherent instability of retrieval. The next conceptual step to
take when considering deployment is to include some form
of exibility within the tether, and an interesting study of
this was published by Danilin et al. [33] in 1999, in which
the elastic tether model of No and Cochrane Jr [34] is used
but with different variables and derivation. The objective
of this paper was to consider deployment of a completely
exible tether from a rigid rotating space vehicle under the
inuence of a central gravitational eld. The tether is
modelled as a series of discrete masses interconnected by
massless elements and with internal viscous damping. The
authors make the very important point that tether element
forces cannot be compressive, so conditions within the
numerical solution algorithm have to be set up to
accommodate the consequential folding effects. Two
numerical examples are summarised; one for a swinging
terrestrial cable with an end mass, which starts from a
horizontal initial condition, mainly as a verication of the
model in those conditions, and the other for plane motion
of a space vehicle deploying a relatively short 3 km tether,
with elemental spacing of 100 m, on orbit. The deployment
is linear and conditions are set up to apply smooth braking

of the tether to a halt at the end of the deployment. It is

also possible, and potentially very useful, to consider
tethered vehicles within an aerobraking context. In such
cases a vehicle, or probe, and an orbiter, connected
together by a tether, are congured so that the vehicle
passes through a planetary atmosphere to obtain a target
velocity change, with the orbiter passing above the atmospheric inuence. Longuski et al. [35] give a full account of
this very interesting problem. Their modelling is based on
the premise that a dumb-bell tether arrives spinning
retrograde to the orbit and when the lower payload enters
the atmosphere the aerodynamic effects decelerate the
tether until it reaches a minimum orientation angle at
which point the drag starts to spin the tether in the
opposite direction. An optimisation scheme referred to as
spin matching is used to equate the spin rates entering and
leaving the atmosphere. This has the desirable effect of
minimising the forces on the tether during the manoeuvre.
They consider the atmospheric y-through as an impact
problem and the analysis is congured to lead to
conclusions for mass optimisation, with gas giants such
as Jupiter used for the environmental context. It is shown
to work well for massive tethers interacting with the Jovian
atmosphere, and the results are particularly tractable in
that they only require knowledge of four parameters for
massive tethers (orbiter-to-probe mass ratio, non-dimensionalised clearance between minimum altitude of the
orbiter and minimum altitude of the probe, non-dimensionalised speed, and DV). In the case of smaller tethers the
DV is subsumed within a revised non-dimensionalised
speed variable, so the parameter space is reduced to three.
A major and authoritative work on the dynamic analysis of
tethers using continuum modelling has been provided by
Auzinger et al. [36], in which stiff equations of motion
obtained by Hamilton-Ostrogradskii and balance principles are solved numerically in a detailed parametric study.
This sophisticated numerical investigation offers a great
deal of useful predictive data on momentum exchange
It should be pointed out that the papers cited above also
contain valuable sources of references, some of which also
feature in this review, and the interested reader is strongly
advised to consult widely on each sub-topic, using the
references supplied within this review and also those which
are precluded from inclusion due to space reasons but
which can be found from the cited papers. In addition to
introductory issues of performance, orbital contextualisation, modelling strategy, deployment, and aerodynamic
effects, it is also important to appreciate that collision
prevention necessarily features within any serious applications for tethers and we introduce some of the literature on
this and related matters next. An interesting introduction
to calculating collision probability between a tether and a
satellite is given by Patera [37,38] of the Center for Orbital
and Reentry Debris Studies in Los Angeles, based on a
computational scheme for long slender tethers of predened shape and a spherical collision space on the basis of

M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

respective state vectors and error covariance matrices. The

problem is shown to reduce to a two-dimensional symmetric
probability density over a cross-sectional collision region.
This in turn reduces to a one-dimensional path integral that
gives computational efciency. A reasonable tether length of
20 km was assumed, with negligible radius and the highly
signicant conclusion was that tethersatellite collision
probabilities are up to 600 times greater than those for
satellitesatellite collisions. Useful comparison data is given
to support this conclusion in tabular and graphical form for
different, and practically feasible, tether congurations. In
addition to tethersatellite collisions we also have to consider
the susceptibility of tethers to debris impacts. A novel Tether
Risk Assessment Programme (TRAP model) due to Gittins et
al. [39] has been proposed and comprises three main
functions; the breakup function, the tether function, and
the analysis function. This work was motivated by the widely
held belief that on impact a debris fragment with a diameter a
little smaller than half of a tether strand diameter can cause
that strand to fail. The break-up component models collisions
and explosions to determine fragment number, mass,
diameter and DV [40]. The tether function is in fact a model
of tether dynamics and this is a two stage affair, dealing with
system centre of mass motion and also libration of the end
masses and tether mass beads. The analysis function
determines collision and severance risk based on probabilistic
continuum dynamics in which an orbital trajectory is found
between two position vectors when the time of ight is
known; this is the well-known Gauss-Lambert problem. The
paper considers a single strand tether and, interestingly, a
double stranded tether design, where the failure criterion is if
both strands in one segment fail or if one mass bead is hit
directly. General conclusions were that a two-strand tether
has a severance risk of two orders of magnitude lower than
the single strand case, with obvious implications for multistrand designs, noting that this premise is also discussed in
some detail in [24]. The design of tethers for survivability is revisited in Section 2.5 (see [41]) at which point the patented
HoytetherTM is summarised. This multi-line concept has a
multi-decade lifetime prediction.
From the perspective gained up to this point it is now
relevant to introduce orbital injection and basic mission
requirements. For the purposes of introduction we consider
hyperbolic injections [21], periodic solutions and the
control of tethers in elliptical orbits [42], and the all
important problem of catching a spacecraft or payload
with a spinning tether [43]. Sorensen [21] provides a highly
readable account of the issues surrounding the orbital
dynamics of the ingenious MXER tether design (also see
[19,22]). A long, 100 km or so, high-strength conductive
tether uses momentum exchange to catch a payload and
then release it into a higher-energy orbit, and then
electrodynamics are employed to reboost the tether;
effectively to restore energy and momentum given to the
payload. Note that ED tethers are considered in more
detail in Section 3.1. Sorensen conrms that interplanetary
ights require orbits to be congured for hyperbolic Earth

escape trajectories. It is pointed out that there is exibility

in this because there are a number of hyperbolae whose
outgoing asymptotes are identical. The objective is to
secure a hyperbolic injection that has an equatorial
periapsis, and a methodology is given in [21] to obtain
the necessary orbital elements. Appreciation of the whole
dynamic context is important for tether mission development and Takeichi et al. [42] provide a control scenario for
a rigid body dumb-bell tether in an elliptical orbit. The
equations of motion are solved for libration and it is shown
that the total energy of the system is minimised when the
librational and orbital motions coincide with periodic
solutions. The overall conclusion is that the periodic
solution is of minimum energy and that this minimum is
the case for circular or eccentric orbits as long as the
libration is actually possible. This can be assured through a
simple periodic on-off control strategy at a certain true
anomaly. The usefulness, or otherwise, of tether libration is
revisited by Ziegler and Cartmell [11] but clearly it has the
potential for distinct advantage over the hanging conguration for payload increment gain. It is equally obvious
that spinning tethers have greater potential still [11]. On the
assumption that we can design long-lasting tethers,
congure them into suitable orbits, control their dynamics
for optimal payload propulsion and minimal potential for
collision, the next step is to introduce criteria for efcient
rendezvous with spacecraft and payloads. Lorenzini [43]
provides an in-depth treatment of a spinning tether loop
with an extended time opportunity for error-tolerant
payload capture within high DV propulsion to GTO and
Earth escape. The conguration is such that the ends of the
loop are furthest away from the centre of mass, where the
loop is at its narrowest. The concept is simple in principle,
depending on the ejection of a payload (satellite) located
harpoon that hooks onto the loop. This makes it tolerant
of large longitudinal position errors and reasonable lateral
errors as well as some out-of-plane error. The capture is
soft, and so caters for some velocity mismatch. Stabilisation of post capture oscillations would be required prior to
further release into a higher-energy orbit. The author
rightly points out that other analyses would be required to
address loop deployment, fault tolerance, and mitigation of
entanglement. A useful survey of the dynamics and control
of tethers is given by Misra and Modi [44]. Cartmell and
DArrigo [45] modelled a symmetrical motorised momentum exchange tether with manipulation of the payload endmasses in order to generate inertial parametric excitation of
the system, in order to determine if the forced-parametric
bifurcatory states could be used to guarantee monotonic
spin-up, with preliminary results indicating that this is
indeed possible. The interested reader will nd useful crossreferences available from [4,5,46].
2.2. Tether missions, constraints, and failure modes
One of the fundamentally important issues surrounding
successful tether ight is that of the avoidance of


M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

entanglement and collision involving these long and

vulnerable structures. This was investigated by Chobotov
and Mains [47] for the TSS-1R mission, which was own in
conjunction with the space shuttle orbiter STS-75 in
February 1996. The paper gives a summary of the history
of the TSS missions in 1992 and 1996 and concludes that
the TSS-1R mission deployed to 19.7 km instead of the
planned 20 km with a failure of this ED test tether due to a
foreign object penetrating the insulation layer which then
exacerbated failure due to arcing and burning of the tether
at a nominal tensile load of 65 N. The paper by Chobotov
and Mains [47] offers an interesting study into the
probability of TSS collisions with micrometeoroids and
other orbiting objects. The authors state that the expectation was that the extended tether would be expected to be
impacted by multiple particles 0.1 mm or larger in size and
that the probability of collision with objects 10 cm or
larger in size was small (10 3) before the TSS re-entered
and burned up in the atmosphere 3 weeks after deployment
from the shuttle. The NASA EVOLVE model for manmade debris ux was used as the basis for this work, at a
350 km altitude. In addition to this data for the closest
distance to satellites in this location was also used, this
being based around the US Space Command SGP4
propagator, and a simulation for a six month period
starting 1 March 1996 generated over 58 000 objects and 24
satellites. The results from the analytical model were
compared to those from a statistical Weibull probability
density function approach, with good mutual correlation.
In the case of the TSS study it was concluded that the
tether was subjected to several impacts by small particles
greater than 0.1 mm in size and that the probability of
collision with larger orbiting objects was very small, and of
the order of 0.001 per month. This paper provides a useful
set of methodologies for general application to tethers. The
subject of tether failure, particularly at deployment, was
further reviewed, by Gates et al. [48], and in the context of
the Advanced Tether Experiment (ATEx), launched in
October 1998, which is particularly interesting because the
tether used had a at tape-like cross-section. The deployment failed after only 22 m out of the possible 6.5 km
length, and the mission was aborted. The tether was made
from low-density polyethylene with three SpectraTM
reinforcing strands running lengthwise along the tether
and showed a tendency to stick to itself and for this selfadhesion to increase with stowage time. It also exhibited a
mechanical memory effect. The mission was aborted
because the deployment problems led to an excessive
libration of the deploying tether outside the acceptable
location boundaries. The paper by Gates et al. [48]
succinctly describes the build-up to this automatic system
decision and also goes into useful practical detail regarding
the deployer and the deployment methodology. The
intended deployment rate was quite low at 0.02 m/s over
3.5 days, with built in accommodation of gravity
gradient-induced librations. The expectation was that as
the deployment progressed the libration angle would

reduce, partially by means of changing gravity gradient

effects during the deployment and partly because of openloop spacecraft manoeuvres. A key sensor, measuring
tether position in a plane at the top of the lower tethered
body, and relative to the axis through this, showed
slackness, and this led to an automated signal to jettison.
The actual cause of the excessive slackness was not
detectable due to limited telemetry. Interestingly after
ruling out certain failure modes the authors propose that
the most likely failure mode was thermal expansion. This
seems to have been due to beginning the deployment in
eclipse, with telemetry nominal, until the tether entered the
sunlight. Another possible cause was the build up of static
which may have interfered with the telemetry and
generated a false slack signal. Shape memory and tip-off
dynamics have also been mentioned as contributory
factors, but the thermal expansion effect was deemed to
be the most likely cause, possibly in concert with these and
other subsidiary effects on top. The paper concludes that
tether deployment requirements are extremely important
when designing a system for ight, and that large design
margins are needed, but were certainly not available in this
rather tightly constrained example. Another case study
paper is that due to Leamy et al. [49] in which the authors
consider the ProSEDS mission and two different nite
element simulation models for the dynamics and a fuzzy set
technique for the ED and deployment operation, particularly with regard to parameter sensitivity. The paper starts
with a short, but useful, summary of tether ights to date
(2001) and mentions a few of the futuristic applications
that have been proposed. Unfortunately the ProSEDS
mission was cancelled in October 2003. This was partly
because of a drastically reduced starting altitude and a
launch timeframe during a period of solar minimum, which
led to the available ED propulsion performance of the
ProSEDS system becoming insufcient to meet the mission
objectives. Despite this the paper is interesting and highly
relevant as a case study. The idea of this mission had been
to study bare-wire ED tethers, and to include a thermal
model accounting for radiated heat, solar heating, and
ohmic heating in order to calculate tether element
temperatures, and an atmospheric and planetary model
accommodating aerodynamic drag, electron density at each
element position, and magnetic eld properties. The
authors used the two nite element codes to simulate the
deployment and electrodynamics of the ProSEDS mission
and variable numbers of nodes were reckoned to be
superior in this context to xed node number calculations.
The overall ndings were that the ProSEDS ED tether
operation would not have been particularly sensitive to
variation in the material parameters, but initial ejection
tether momentum and controller parameters would have
been signicant, as would variations in the geomagnetic
eld and the plasma parameters. This clearly indicates once
again the importance of controllable and adaptive deployment and braking strategies. It has been shown in this brief
review of papers dealing with possible failure and

M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

constraint modes that successful use of tethers requires a

good understanding of the environmental conditions both
in terms of the prevailing orbital mechanics and the debris
environment, a precise knowledge of neighbouring satellite
and spacecraft operations, extremely good mechanical
design particularly for deployers and brakes, bearing in
mind that tether geometry characteristics are an integral
part of this, robust sensing of all signicant operational
variables, and highly adaptive control strategies. These
themes are revisited further in subsequent sections of the
2.3. Dynamics of dumb-bell systems
A great many tether systems can be considered as some
form of dumb-bell system in which two massive bodies, not
necessarily of the same mass or size, are coupled together
by a low-mass tether by which momentum is exchanged
between them. Kelly [50] provides a general overview of
possible applications for the conventionally expendable
Space Shuttle External Tank (ET) as a space platform in
LEO for use as an extended on-orbit crew or experimental
package base, or as a micro-g experiment and processing
facility, a celestial observation facility, an Earth observation point, or as a staging point on the way to
geosynchronous orbit locations. Conceptualisations of
these scenarios are provided but it is the apparently
secondary roles for the ET that could well involve a
dumb-bell tether conguration. Kelly suggests three
scenarios, one of which uses a tethered release of the ET
from the orbiter in which momentum exchange leads to a
boost to a higher orbit for the orbiter and consequently a
deorbiting of the ET. This idea, and several others, is also
given by Beletsky and Levin [1]. In 1992 Kumar, Kumar,
and Misra [51] presented their ndings on the effect of
deployment rate and librations on tethered payload raising.
This seminal paper showed that a counter intuitive result
was obtained whereby increasing deployment rate does not
necessarily lead to increased payload apogee. They
introduce a special rule for planar librations and circular
pre-release orbits which they denote as the 7+4d rule.
Additionally the paper shows clear general relationships
between apogee altitude gain as a function of deployment
rate and explains how suitable deployment rates could be
selected for optimising altitude gain, for a given system.
The 7+4d rule is revisited in [11]. A relatively short class
of dumb-bell tether belongs to the OEDIPUS ionospheric
plasma test mission system comprising two axially spinning
sub-payloads separated by a tether of up to 1 km in length.
This was reported by Vigneron et al. [52] in 1997.
Terrestrial tests were performed with the understanding
that they would differ from the in-space conguration in
terms of length scale, higher terrestrial level of gravity, and
the presence of friction within the system-supporting
gimbals that would not be present in space. The authors
derived a specic mathematical model of the laboratory
system, one that included the terrestrial effects as well as

the in-ight phenomena. The paper shows that the model

for this problem can be reduced to a linear, vibratory,
damped, and gyroscopic system, for which an eigenfunction analysis is used to obtain the damped gyroscopic
modes shapes, stability, and natural frequencies for various
physical congurations. Interestingly, this work showed
that linear modelling could be used to represent modal
frequencies and payload attitude stability quite well,
however, it obviously did not cover all the possible
dynamical phenomena in the system, and would overlook
certain regions of convergent attitude motion and limit
cycle behaviour. By moving the spin axis so that it is
normal to the tether and half-way along the tether length,
orientating the tether spin plane so that it is coplanar to the
orbit plane, and then forcing the system by means of an
external drive motor, a motorised dumb-bell tether can be
envisioned. This was rst presented in 1998 by Cartmell
[53] and a preliminary model was established which showed
that forced, motor driven, spin could be generated for a
large symmetrical dumb-bell tether, and that complicated
non-planar motions of the tether could also be initiated.
Motorised tethers are examined further in later sections
[4,11,13,5456], where it is shown that there can be certain
advantages to employing an additional form of energy
input in this way, notwithstanding the potential for
complicated three-dimensional motions as this couples
with the prevailing orbital mechanics. Important aspects of
the dynamics, which underpin the general stability and
control problem that exists with long tethers in space were
examined in 2000 by Kumar and Kumar [57] in a system
comprising four equal, but short, tethers joining two
spacecraft platforms, or satellites. A stability criterion is
evolved for a somewhat simplied situation using rst
order perturbation equations around the nominal equilibrium conguration. The set of rather complicated
ordinary nonlinear differential equations is non-dimensionalised and the reduced parameter space is numerically
explored. Ultimately the authors consider three congurations; four parallel equi-spaced tethers, a parachute
arrangement where the four tethers are spaced out at the
upper end but converge to a common point on the lower
satellite, and a single tether. This intriguing paper shows
that all three congurations can provide augmentation of
gravity gradient stabilisation, with the parachute layout
performing best of all. The tether lengths are extremely
low, just a few metres, and it should be emphasised that the
objective of this particular paper is to show how very short
tethers can be used to give a high degree of threedimensional librational stability to medium-sized systems.
Clearly this is a very different remit to the needs of
interplanetary propulsion using momentum exchange
tethers, but serves to show a useful and very interesting
additional application. A discussion of an articial gravity
system, which comprises two tethered satellites was given
by Mazzoleni and Hoffman [58] in 2003 and includes tether
elasticity within the so-called Tethered Articial Gravity
(TAG) satellite. Tethers are useful for articial gravity


M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

generation because they can be used to maximise the r and

therefore minimise the o within the o2r that denes the socalled g-force. The spin-up phase is examined in
particular, and it is found that an initial out-of-plane angle
of the system and the location of the tether attachment
point can both signicantly affect the dynamics of the endbody motion of a tethered satellite system (TSS) during
spin-up. The modelling included tether elasticity and was
based on relevant work reported by Kumar and Kumar
[57]. The net conclusion is that if tethers are to be used
successfully for articial gravity generation then attitude
control of the end bodies is required during spin-up.
Mazzoleni and Hoffman investigate the non-planar spinup dynamics of the Advanced Safety Tether Operation and
Reliability (ASTOR) satellite in [59] and show that this
spin-up manoeuvre is an example of articial gravity,
which could perhaps be harnessed within human-based
missions in the future.
Applications of tethers for interplanetary payload
propulsion are quite numerous within the literature and
some cases have been summarised above in various
contexts. Nordley [60], preceded by Forward and Nordley
in 1999 [61] (see Section 2.7), showed in 2001 that a dumbbell tether, with a counter mass at one end and a payload at
the other, could be used to throw substantial payloads to
Mars. This paper concentrates on a digestible summary of
the mission architecture strategy necessary to accomplish
this and necessarily omits some of the details. However, it
is of interest as a pragmatic assessment of the capabilities
of a momentum exchange tether on the basis of some
reasonable simplifying assumptions using currently
available materials and technologies. The general
nding from this work is that spinning tethers could be
used to propel sizeable payloads to Mars for the same or
less total mass to orbit than chemical propulsion. If one
pays attention to the way that spin is generated,
and particularly if it is externally excited by means of an
electric motor for example, then performance levels can be
optimised for a range of mission options. It was with this in
mind that Ziegler and Cartmell [11] investigated the
potential for motorised tethers in 2001. In this paper the
three mechanical options for upper payload release were
re-considered; for a hanging, swinging (librating), and
spinning tether, including a form of the 7+4d rule of [51].
It is shown in [11] that such rules do not take all the
possible dynamical effects into consideration. An extended
rule is derived, for both orbit raising and lowering,
which takes orbital radius, tether length, and angular
orbital and tether pitch velocities into account. This is
shown to work well in some practically useful data cases. A
Motorised Momentum Exchange Tether (MMET) on a
circular orbit is considered and the nonlinear ordinary
differential equation for this is used to develop an
analytical spin-up criterion, which can also be compared
with appropriately interpreted results of numerical integration of the governing ODE. This paper shows that a
motorised tether can improve on the orbit raising

performance of a librating tether by two orders of

magnitude, and the librating tether is roughly twice as
effective as its hanging counterpart. The paper also
distinguishes between performance and efciency and
suggests that in some circumstances short tethers can be
advantageous in terms of efciency (orbit raising parameter divided by tether propulsion length) despite their
lower actual performance (measured in terms of the orbit
raising parameter) than for longer tethers.
Tether retrieval is the opposite of deployment and is
equally important in dynamical terms. Retrieval of a subsatellite to a larger vehicle, specically a space station, is
examined by Djebli et al. [62]. This work was published in
2002 and concentrates on laws for retrieval (and also
deployment) specically combining simple (linear or
exponential retrieval) and fast laws in which specic
acceleration proles are proposed. This would be applicable to passive momentum exchange tethers, MMETs, and
potentially to ED tethers too. Fast (hyperbolic) retrieval is
particularly advantageous because it tends to damp
transverse vibrations in the tether, particularly when
preceded by a simple sinusoidal retrieval law. Although
ED tethers are dealt with in Section 3 it is pertinent to
mention at this stage the work of Pelaez et al. of 2002 [63]
in which an ED tether is modelled as a two-bar system. The
bars are articulated so that they can rotate relative to each
other by means of an assumed universal joint. One end of
the two-link tether is attached to a massive host spacecraft
and the other end comprises a point end mass. The
dynamics of the tether are modelled analytically by means
of Lagrangian dynamics, and the ED forces are introduced
within the generalised forces terms since they do not derive
physically from a potential. It is important also to note that
this model is adapted to the ProSEDS mission, [16,49], and
is based on the intention that for such systems the second
section is non-conductive and gravity gradient stabilised,
thereby simplifying the general equations of motion. The
authors consider this work to be an evolution of the
dynamics of a dumb-bell model, applicable to ED and
purely mechanical tethers. It shows that two modes of
motion in the form of libration and lateral oscillation are
both unstable in the absence of damping, the former
growing slowly whilst the latter develops more quickly. The
lateral instability is shown to grow particularly rapidly
above a critical value of the ED to gravity gradient force
ratio. An in-depth treatment of the rigid body dynamics of
tethers in space is given by Ziegler [54]. In this work the
dumb-bell tether is modelled at various levels of accuracy,
and approximate analytical solutions are obtained by
means of the method of multiple scales for periodic
solutions. Comprehensive dynamical systems analyses are
summarised for different congurations and models, and
global stability criteria for a rigid body dumb-bell tether, in
both passive and motorised forms, are dened and
investigated. Further treatment of the spin-up criterion of
[11] is also provided. Further work by Mazzoleni and
Hoffman, [58], is of interest and relevance here, dealing

M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

with the end-body dynamics of articial gravity generating,

elastically tethered, satellite systems, undergoing nonplanar spin-up. In 2007, McKenzie [13] explored the
dynamics of the MMET to include an analysis of the
system on an inclined orbit and while undergoing deployment. Similar modelling techniques were used to investigate space-web dynamics, producing a stability map of the
rotating space-web. Further relevant cross-references are
available in [2,14,30].
2.4. Tether models in which flexural effects are introduced
The implication of the general dumb-bell model
approach is that the tether is treated as a rigid body,
however, that is not necessarily the case if axial stretch is
allowed, and although then it may still be a dumb-bell in
appearance it is no longer a rigid body in mathematical
terms. Therefore, once that freedom is accommodated it
becomes interesting to cater for further, more generic,
forms of elasticity within the tether. The rigid dumb-bell
tether is useful, however, not only for gaining an understanding of general global motions of a tether in space, but
also as a fundamental tool for mission conceptualisation.
In practice it is almost certainly the case that elastic models
will be needed, and particularly so when very high
accuracies are required both in predicting the tether
location and orientation, but also in properly understanding the deformation of a tether in cases where the
application is particularly demanding. This will frequently
be the case in high-performance multi-line systems with
high levels of built-in fail-safe redundancy, and also in
tether-based structures such as orbiting stellar interferometers and space webs. In the case of the orbiting stellar
interferometer DeCou [64] showed in 1989 that planar
deformation of a spinning system comprising three
collimating telescopes at the corners of an equilateral
triangle made up from three interconnecting tethers would
be inevitable due to the inertia of the tethers. Clearly
inertia-less tethers will not deform centripetally and will,
instead, merely stretch into straight lines due to the tension
created along their length by the corner masses as the
whole system rotates. The other case is where the corner
masses are zero and the tether mass density is nite, and
then the triangle will necessarily deform into a circle. In
practice we get something in between and this is shown in
the paper by including nite corner and tether masses,
along with in-plane deformation of the tethers. The tethers
are broken down into segments and an iterative procedure
is used to calculate the static shape that the system
assumes. Axial stretch has already been mentioned as a
parameter of fundamental importance in real systems. In
long, high-performance propulsion tethers this could be
very considerable, and will severely limit the applicability
of rigid body modelling to anything other than system
conceptualisation. A straightforward but compelling piece
of work by Bernelli-Zazzera from 2001, and reported in [9],
in which motion control is proposed for a tether in which

stretch is allowed, showed that effective control can be

applied by means of a short boom to which the deployer
end of the tether is attached. The tether is free to move
essentially as a conical elastic pendulum, and a terrestrial
example is given in which a gravitational restoring force is
included in a vertically orientated system. The stretch of
the tether results in bobbing oscillations which couple
with the pendulum motion. The work is also of interest
from a control and instrumentation point of view. The
control is by means of planar rotational motion of the
boom and is used within a linearised system model, noting
that simulations were performed using a nonlinear model.
Feedback of tether strain rate is used, in practice by means
of an accelerometer within the end mass, and maximum
damping of the bobbing oscillation is used to evaluate the
optimal gain for the system. It is shown that the out-ofplane angle of the tether decouples from the rest of the
system dynamics and so is uncontrollable, thus reducing
the system to a planar elastic pendulum. The relevance of
the work is in the effectiveness of the boom control
actuator in minimising both the bobbing and the planar
swing oscillations using simple actuation and control. In
contrast with this Hokamoto et al. [65] consider a tethered
space robot, conceptualised in their 2001 paper as a rigid
body at the end of an elastic tether connected at its other
end to a larger rigid body in the form of a main satellite.
The system is constrained to motion in the orbital plane.
Two links are attached to the robot satellite and are used as
a manipulator to control the system. Torques are applied
momentarily to the manipulator to effect the control and
although strain energy in both axial and lateral tether
deformation is initially included the paper does not state if
and how this is developed, although the theoretical
principles are all summarised. Extremely good tether swing
minimisation is achieved for pragmatic data. Tethered
interferometers based on different constellational congurations are considered by Quadrelli [66], with a general
analysis for an n-body system where each body represents a
spacecraft within the three-dimensional constellation and
each interconnecting tether comprises N point masses,
connected by massless springs and viscous dampers.
Quadrelli points out that there are two ways to treat tether
deployment with a lumped mass model; either the mass of
the mass-points is kept constant, with varying number
which is said to imply a mass creation and elimination
procedure, or the number of mass-points is kept constant
so that their masses will vary. Clearly, the rst approach is
more complicated than the second and so a general analysis
is given for that, with a three spacecraft model used as a
basis for the derivation, as briey summarised in the paper.
An important feature of this paper is that thermomechanical modelling is included, and that a link is
provided between the dynamics and control aspects of
tethered formation ying. This is specically for interferometer applications which concentrate on a threespacecraft/two-tether system and a four-spacecraft/threetether system; noting back to the work of McKenzie and


M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

Cartmell [12] and McKenzie [13]. The ultimate aim of such

research is to generate recongurable control schemes for
very general congurations of tethered interferometers.
The paper by Bombardelli et al. [67] investigates the issue
of rotation plane change of a dipole-like interferometer
comprising two end-located collectors and one central
combiner, and proposes an open-loop control strategy for
high-precision re-targetting.
An interesting concept for a tethered space manipulator
is given by Woo and Misra [68] in which a tether is
proposed as a means of extending the range of a
manipulator with little mass and fuel cost. Their system
comprises a two-link manipulator, a tether, and a spacecraft. Modelling assumptions are that the robot manipulators arms are rigid links and the tether is rigid and
straight, with a point mass located at each joint in the
system and at the end effector. The centre of mass of the
system is coincident with the centre of mass of the
spacecraft, and describes a circular orbit around Earth.
Planar motion of the system is assumed, and four angular
generalised coordinates are used to dene this. Although
the tether is considered to be in tension, and rigid as a
result, the authors concede that there can be theoretical
conditions in which the tether tension goes negative, and
therefore changes to compression. Their remedy for this is
to calculate tension from an analytical expression during
the simulations in order to ensure that the results are
physically meaningful. Time histories of this, together with
joint torques and overall end-effector position, are
calculated and feasible paths for the end effector are given
with certain torque restriction and various initial conditions. The end result of this is an algorithm, based on a
globally convergent form of Newtons method, for
determining whether a feasible path exists between the
end effector at its extended vertical position and the desired
end point. Ishige et al. [69] introduce the concept of using
an ED tether for space debris removal, on the basis that it
can be considered initially as a simple dumb-bell (assumed
to be rigid) but with signicant tether mass lumped into a
single point, and then as a discretised mass model within
which exibility is allowed by using parallel springs and
viscous dampers as interconnections between the discrete
tether masses. The geomagnetic eld is modelled as a single
magnetic dipole with titled axis and the magnetic eld
vector expressed in inertial coordinates. The tether debris
removal strategy is based on a sequence of tether
deployment and ED activity by which means the debris
item is lowered sufciently to burn up in the atmosphere.
The tether exibility couples with the orbital dynamics,
although the paper does not discuss this in particular
detail, however, tension variation effects are noted.
Practical guidelines are given for the application of such
a system, notwithstanding that the mass of the debris item,
compared with that of the service satellite at the other end
of the tether, could signicantly affect system stability.
Some useful further references relating to this work are in

2.5. Control strategies and models

In this section the emphasis is on proposals and
methodologies for the application of some form of control
of tethers in space. A highly readable and useful discussion
of the use of motor driven momentum exchange tethers for
lunar and interplanetary exploration is given by Puig-Suari
et al. [70] and is another exposition of the motorised concept
also proposed by Cartmell [53] and also cited in Refs.
[4,10,11,13,24,27,54,55,56]. In [70], the authors explore the
use of uniform tethers and tapered tethers, with a discussion
of the attendant tether mass ratio. The important conclusion
is made that tethers can be superior in mass terms to
traditional chemical rockets for low-speed manoeuvres, but
inferior for high-speed applications. Useful relationships
between the energy required to spin up a tapered tether and
energy converted by solar cells per unit area are given,
within the approximate range 0.151.5 m2/kg of payload.
The paper also summarises the problem of the provision of
counter-inertia with motor drive designs. This is also a
feature of the work of [53] and its extensions cited above.
The authors of [70] also state that orbiting tether facilities
can be extremely efcient in missions where many spacecraft
launches are proposed, with particular advantages of general
simplicity and reusability of the tether systems, however, it is
generally acknowledged that this does not necessarily extend
to the orbital control and maintenance requirements for
tethers which can be rather demanding, particularly
for high-performance interplanetary propulsion [13,53,54],
in addition to ancillary hardware reliability problems,
particularly in storage and deployer systems, and brakes.
Several hardware and software implementation studies have
taken place, with an early contribution provided by
Gwaltney and Greene [71] in which the Getaway Tether
Experiment, GATE, is discussed. A simple dynamical
model of the planar libration dynamics is used in
conjunction with a tether tension law based on length and
length rate feedback, and other (cited) work has shown that
this can produce desirable stabilisation characteristics
during deployment and retrieval. In [71], the authors
investigate the implementation of such control schemes
within prototype hardware which is specically designed
for space ight; cross-reference with [23,72] for further
discussions of specic hardware designs. The mechanical
details of the implementation examined in [71] (stepper
motor driven reel and wind mechanisms) are perhaps less
important than the techniques used, for which simulations
showed that the planar libration amplitude of an uncontrolled test tether of 10 m in length would reduce from 7.01
to 1.31 within 53 s, whereas yo-yo control, based on length
variation at libration amplitude zero and peak excursion
values, could get this down to 41 s, and phasing control,
based on length variation at angular positions slightly before
these points, could improve that further, with times down to
36 s. These predictions appear to have been backed up by
experimental tests, although relatively little detail of these is
given in the paper.

M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

An interesting control application for tethers is in the

dynamic isolation of payloads from a mother satellite or
spacecraft. Ohkami et al. [73] discuss this in the context of
payload and space station interactions for microgravity
control in the payload. A three mass system is modelled,
comprising the base vehicle, the platform, and a ballast
mass, connected in series by two tethers. Platform
translations and rotations are considered and the equations
are linearised on the assumption that for microgravity
applications the deections from the equilibrium state are
small. Highly accurate microgravity manipulation is
available for simple feedback control. In the case of large,
controlled, tether motions, as would be required for waste
disposal and capsule re-entry operations, nonlinear dynamics are unavoidable, but alternatives to fully analytical
nonlinear controller design such as fuzzy logic can provide
very effective control. This is discussed for a tether initiated
re-entry application and a waste disposal system by Licata
[74], in which a feedback system based on simple fuzzy
logic rules controls the variable rate deployment for a
deployer reel-brake assembly design, within a simulation,
using realistic data. It is worth noting that this procedure is
applied to medium length tethers of up to approximately
25 km. The control of robots remote from their space
vehicle is revisited again in the work of Nohmi et al. [75];
also refer to [68], where translational momentum of the
centre of mass of the tethered robot is controlled by tether
tension, and angular momentum control, with respect to
the tethered robots mass centre, is based on proper control
of the tether attachment point and tether. These controls
are effected by manipulations of tether tension and link
motion in the case of a generalised robot in the form of
n+1 rigid bodies (links) connected through rotational
joints. The tether itself is considered to be a massless rigid
link from the centre of mass of the spacecraft, subjected
only to tension and with a time dependent length. A
reaction wheel, jet, or thrust, is required to control angular
momentum about the tether. It is shown that the link
motion of the tethered robot can be satisfactorily split into
two sub-tasks i.e. end-effector motion and tether attachment point motion, and that compensation for signicant
impulsive disturbances is robust and effective. Tension
moments for four short tethers used to connect two
spacecraft halves have been shown by Kumar and Kumar
[76] to be good for the control of two aspects of system
motion by means of a combined open-loop control law
together with a simple feedback scheme. The motions
considered for control are longitudinal system drift with
respect to the ground station and attitude excitation
induced by eccentricity. This work relates to the TSS as
mentioned in Section 2.2, on the assumption that the TSS
comprises two identical satellites connected through very
short tethers, with the anchor points located on the
principal roll axis and symmetrically offset from the centre
of mass of each satellite. Tether mass is neglected and the
planar angular motion case is considered. The pitching
angles of the two satellite halves, the tethers, and the tether


length dene the motions of interest and comprise three

angular and one translational generalised coordinate.
Length variation can be controlled in order to force the
system into certain motions and ultimately a special hybrid
tether length control law is proposed. It is shown that
effective control can be achieved using tethers as short as
10 m. The combination of open-loop and feedback control,
in this context, results in a signicant improvement in
attitude precision for system alignment along the line-ofsight. This is proposed as a viable alternative to station
keeping manoeuvres required for geostationary satellites,
particularly in cases when onboard fuel is nearing
Offset control of a tethered sub-satellite from a large
platform is investigated by Pradhan et al. [77], on the basis
of the TSS concept once again, where the offset mechanism
takes the form of a manipulator attached to the platform
capable of providing movement of the platform end of the
tether in the local horizontal and vertical directions. The
tether is modelled as a exible string and the assumed
modes method is used for discretisation. Motions are
restricted to the orbital plane, and generalised coordinates
for platform and tether pitch, together with tether modal
coordinates, are used to dene the system motions.
Damping is usefully included by means of Rayleighs
dissipation function and the generalised force vector
represents momentum gyros located near the centre of
mass of the platform and thrusters at the tether subsatellite end. Modelling accuracy is determined by checking
the total system energy and comparing the frequencies of
the linearised system with those available in the literature.
The Feedback Linearization Technique (FLT) is used to
control the attitude dynamics whereas a robust LQG
control is used for the vibrational modes. The paper
concentrates on controller design and overall offset control
is seen to be effective for the regulation of platform pitch
and tether vibrations but less so for tether attitude, for
which large offset motions are required. A HypersonicAirplane Space-Tether Orbital Launch Vehicle (HASTOL)
architecture has been proposed by Hoyt [78] in which
several sub-concepts are proposed within the architecture
for the transportation of large payloads into Earth orbit.
The concept species a hypersonic aeroplane to carry a
substantial payload up to an altitude of 80100 km at a
speed of Mach 1013. The aeroplane is intended to
rendezvous with the tip of a long rotating tether which
swings down from a massive facility in Earth orbit. A
grapple vehicle at the tether tip receives the payload which
is then pulled up by the tether into orbit. The system is said
to offer launch cost reduction because a conventional
launch vehicle requires a total DV of around 7.5 km/s
whereas the HASTOL launch vehicle only needs to provide
about 3.5 km/s to the payload. This paper summarises
concepts for three different tether systems for use within
HASTOL and shows that a rotating tether is optimal,
particularly if it connects with the highest possible apogee
for the hypersonic spaceplane. Methods are given for


M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

maximising the rendezvous window, although this is still

measured in seconds. The work conrms, entirely by means
of numerical simulations, that the HASTOL concept, as
dened, is pragmatic and controllable. Fujii et al. [79]
consider a three degree of freedom nonlinear analytical
model for a terrestrial deployment model for a tether with a
oating balloon at its upper end, in order to obtain an
understanding of the rotation, attitude, and deployed
length when the simple balloon tensioned system is
subjected to aerodynamic drag and is under the inuence
of a specic control law. The control law is designed to
suppress the motion of the system and to adjust the tether
length. The tension supplied by the balloon is of the order
of a few Newtons and experiment and simulations based on
the analytical model are compared. The concept of virtual
mass is incorporated into the analytical models equations
of motions, whereby it is found that the uid surrounding a
body which is accelerating within it (like the balloon in this
case) seems to increase the mass of the body, and this is not
negligible when the orders of magnitude of the mass of the
body and the virtual mass are close. In the case of this
system it is found that the presence of virtual mass
improves the accuracy of the model. Whilst this in itself
is not directly relevant to the performance of tethers in
space it provides a very good means of testing important
microgravity effects, with the assurance of a fair degree of
controllability. Attitude stabilisation of tethered spacecraft
conrmed as a major issue and conguration-based control
of attitude has been shown, by Kumar and Yasaka [80], to
be an elegant solution. In this work the authors start from
the general literature nding that a single tether connecting
a main satellite or vehicle to an auxiliary mass requires
feedback control to ensure attitude stability of the satellite,
but that a two-tether system can improve on this
performance. On this basis these authors present a kitelike conguration comprising three tether spans, the top
two emanating from points on the (upper) satellite
symmetrically offset from the centre of mass and terminating at a common connecting point below from which the
third span hangs down, ending in the auxiliary mass.
The authors summarise a nonlinear non-dimensionalised
Lagrangian model comprising 10 generalised coordinates
and show by means of a stability analysis for the linearised
system about equilibrium that certain physical constraints
are necessary for stability, but that this is achievable and
potentially inherently so; see also Quadrelli [66]. The single
tether stabilisation problem is discussed by Cho and
McClamroch [81] and the control objective here is slightly
more strict, requiring not only attitude control of the
satellite but that this is consistent with small tether
motions. They do this in two ways, initially by decoupling
the attitude dynamics from the tether dynamics and then
designing in a linear feedback to stabilise the attitude, and
also by using a Kalman decomposition to decouple
uncontrollable modes and then using linear feedback to
stabilise the controllable modes. They conclude that for
roll-yaw attitude stabilisation, which is more demanding

than pitch control, the Kalman decomposition approach

works best because less actuator movement is required and
the tether dynamics are generally less affected. We return
to ED tethers, and a model leading to a specic type of
dynamic instability when working in inclined orbits in the
paper by Pelaez and Lara [82]. The instability is
independent of tether exibility and so the tether is
modelled as a dumb-bell with end masses. The geomagnetic
eld is represented by a non-tilted dipole model and
constant tether current is assumed. The electrodynamics
force the system dynamics equations and the paper gives a
full account of the stability of the tether in terms of the
inuence of the orbit inclination and a parameter
representing the magnitude of the ED force on the tether.
A numerical algorithm based on the Poincare method of
continuation of periodic orbits is used to extend previous
asymptotic analyses. The paper shows that high inclinations are not initially seen to be appropriate for vertical ED
tethers and it is shown that for a given inclination there is a
critical value of the ED magnitude parameter beyond
which destabilisation is signicantly accentuated. Tether
current control can help to alleviate such effects, but it is
recommended that such tethers are generally better off
being operated away from this sort of threshold. The paper
also shows that there are many unstable periodic solutions
to this tether system and that such regimes are unsuitable
for long-term ED tether operation. Introducing motor
drive to a momentum exchange tether has many advantages but it has been shown by the authors, and others
[11,13,26,53,54] that the interactions between local motor
drive leading to tether spin and orbital mechanics are far
from straightforward and that such systems are capable of
very rich dynamics. Cartmell et al. [4] show that scale
modelling, and performance prediction based on this, is a
useful way forward when attempting to generate pragmatic
data for the dynamics of controllable motorised tethers. In
[4], it is shown that a symmetrically designed motorised
tether, with the motor drive placed centrally and driving
the two sub-spans, with inertial counter-balance, provides
a basis for optimised performance. The proposal utilises
the concept of payload release symmetry whereby the two
payloads are released simultaneously from the ends of the
tether sub-spans at the point when the system is aligned
normal to the tangent to the orbit. Therefore the inner
payload is de-boosted and the outer payload is boosted.
The paper treats a simplied terrestrial (on-ice) model by
means of classical scaling theory using the Buckingham Pitheorem. It is shown that even for the restricted dynamics
of this system that certain very important trade-offs
between mass and geometrical parameters have a signicant effect on the systems ability to spin-up, and it is
proposed that insights and enhancements at this level are
likely to improve the performance of motorised tethers in
orbit. The work also provides a basis for full size system
generation from the scale model, or vice versa. Tether
vibrations were also investigated, by means of a threedimensional stretched string model, and scaling laws

M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

applied to this model, and the on-ice rigid body model

showed that there is a numerical incompatibility when
trying to scale rigid body spin-ups and exural tether
vibrations at the same time. Therefore, a clear case for
multi-scale modelling is made in this paper. A simple despin concept is also proposed for payloads in order to
direct angular momentum in spin of the payload at and
after release back to the spinning tether system, and an
initial two degree of freedom nonlinear model is introduced
and discussed. One of the questions raised by this work
relates to the dynamics of tethers after payload release, and
how they can be controlled when the tether effectively
becomes a trailing structure. This general problem is rather
universal and generally independent of tether type or the
conguration in which it is used. The paper by Rossi et al.
[83] of 2004 provides an interesting account of the likely
periodic motions of a tether trailing satellite, with attention
paid both to the motion of the satellite and the tether. The
scenario that the paper considers is when a tether
connecting two satellites is cut as a consequence of an
accident or a planned manoeuvre. It is assumed that the
Earth centred frame is inertial, that the satellite can be
modelled as a point mass, the tether is homogeneous with
uniform density, the torsional and transversal vibrations of
the tether can be neglected, and elasticity follows Hookes
law. The model comprises partial and ordinary differential
equations and applies the well-known wave equation in an
orbital context, together with the effects of atmospheric
drag and Earth oblateness. This signicant work shows
that the existence of periodic solutions for such a system
does not depend on the equilibrium state when gravitational and oblateness terms predominantly drive the
dynamics. The important features relate solely to tether
density, length, exibility, and rotational speed. However,
shorter stiffer systems tend to exhibit periodic motions
about their equilibrium states. In the case where atmospheric drag inuences the system at all signicantly it is
found that tether trailing satellites are strongly inuenced
by the equilibrium state; this is because the gravitational
and oblateness forces are uniformly bounded independent
of position, whereas drag forces do not behave like this and
so linearisation about the equilibrium states is required. So,
the existence of periodic motions with bounded forces is
found to depend just on tether parameters, but unbounded
(linear) growth depends on the equilibrium states. Several
interesting cross-references can be found in [9,42,57,62,65,
2.6. Practical tether designs and proposed system
It has already been shown that an important objective of
tether modelling is to generate data that can be used for
pragmatic designs which will perform optimally and
predictably when in orbit. Carroll proposed a preliminary
design for a 1 km/s tether transport system [84] in orbit
around the Earth, the Moon, or Mars. This paper is


interesting because it considers a single-ended (single

payload) tether in what the author denes as a barely
spinning mode, where the system spin rate is approximately synchronous with the orbital period. The author
gives substantial numerical data for practically useful
mission applications about Earth, the Moon, and Mars,
on the basis of how tethers might operate within certain
payload delivery and retrieval scenarios about those
bodies. In addition the paper discusses practical proposals
for a traction-winch tether spool-store system with
controllable feed and cites interesting critical reeling rates
for different stored lengths up to 200 km. The paper also
discusses concepts for testing thick tethers under highrepetition cyclical reeling at low temperatures, and capture
hardware design is proposed based on the criteria of large
capture zone and design simplicity, in the form of a hook
and bag system. The paper also considers capture and
release transients that inevitably arise and which drive
sudden changes in equilibrium tether tension and length,
together with some comments on general deployment
strategy and general operational conditions. Retrieval of
a tether and point-mass payload to a massive spacecraft is
considered in some detail in the paper by Chernousko [85].
The conguration comprises a reeled out tether and endmass payload swinging from below the spacecraft and is
restricted to a planar analysis. The forces acting on the
system comprise tether tension, gravitational force, and
inertial forces (centripetal (centrifugal) and Coriolis). The
author suggests four different practical ways of controlling
the retrieval process, rstly by using small motors on the
satellite to generate reaction forces perpendicular to the
tether, moving the tether emanation point on the spacecraft
relative to the spacecraft in order to suppress oscillations,
controlling small deviatory motions of the spacecraft in
order to suppress oscillations, or controlling tether tension
during retrieval. This paper considers several important
cases, specically for constant tether length, oscillations at
a constant winding rate, small tether oscillations, nonlinear
oscillations, and control of the retrieval process. Control is
achieved by a two-stage process in which the tether is
initially maintained at constant length during which phase
trajectories are used to determine the necessary constant
rate of winding in the second stage. The second stage
proceeds and operates at the calculated winding rate until
retrieval is complete.
Trade-offs between tether mass, strength, and longevity
are of fundamental importance and in the case of
momentum exchange tethers one of the most interesting
concept proposals to emerge has been that of the
Hoytether, Forward and Hoyt [41,86], in which a multiyear lifetime is proposed for an open tubular tri-axial net.
This design consists of axial load bearing primary lines
with cross-linking at intervals by diagonal secondary lines,
which are only loaded if the section of primary line that
they surround fails for some reason. The most likely cause
of failure in such a scenario is due to high-velocity
micrometeoroids or space debris. Due to this design the


M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

effect of the damage is localised to the failure region and

the load is re-distributed within the secondary lines around
this region. The authors claim a Hoytether lifetime in the
order of decades rather than the less-than-full-mission
capability of single line tethers. Further practical ideas
resulted in the Rapunzel small tether mission for tether
assisted payload re-entry. This is discussed in the paper by
Sabath et al. [87] and was intended to be a small tether
mission whose deployer was tested in a parabolic ight in
1995. The deployer consists of a tether box containing a
spooled tether of 63 km and a brake and compensator
based on textile industry technology. The deployer was
found to perform quite well during the microgravity
conditions of the parabolic ight with good tension control
in evidence. However, despite the effectiveness of tether
designs and their deployment systems the space debris
mitigation problem is one that has had to be addressed in
recent times. The work of Rex [88] highlights some of the
spacecraft design changes that would be effective in debris
mitigation. Two principal approaches are highlighted;
passivation, in which onboard stored chemical propellants
are removed in order to prevent debris generation by
explosions, and the deliberate de-orbiting of larger orbiting
objects to reduce the possibility of collision. ED tethers are
suggested for de-orbiting applications, and this has also
been explored by others, notably Hoyt and Forward [86].
Clearly the orbital debris problem also affects the use of
tethers and this is explored further in the work of Draper
[24]. Very short tethers could be feasibly used to achieve
controllable satellite pitch and roll attitude manoeuvres,
Kumar and Kumar [89], and an in-depth dynamical model
description is given for a short four-tether system connecting a satellite to an auxilliary mass, and the synthesis of
open-loop tether length control laws. Good control of
complex manoeverability is obtained for sufciently slow
tether length variation, together with small amplitude
oscillations about the desired nal equilibrium position.
This could be an important methodology for safe satellite
operation in certain circumstances and the general issue of
safe operation of tethers, particularly in unscheduled
operations, from the ISS is discussed in a practically
focused analysis by Trivailo et al. [90]. Unscheduled
operations are meant to cover instances of unexpected
severance, and interference between the tether and other
hardware. Both type of event has been shown to be
possible in tether retrieval operations, particularly if socalled skip-rope modes are initiated. The paper shows that
instabilities can be caused by an excessive retrieval rate and
also by skip-rope motion, both of which can give rise to
severance or interference with other hardware. Dynamic
simulations show that interference with the ISS itself would
be likely, with severance as the nal outcome.
Tether missions involving interplanetary propulsion or
the orbit raising of major payloads will inevitably require
the use of a reusable space plane system capable of liaising
with a tether for payload handover. Considerable conceptual work on this issue has been carried out, reported by

Hoyt [78] and Grant et al. [91], and, as already mentioned

in Section 2.5, has resulted in proposals for the Hypersonic
Airplane Space Tether Orbital Launch (HASTOL) vehicle.
This technology overview provides insights into the
possibilities of ying a 15 tonne payload in a ballistic arc
to reach Mach 1013 at an altitude of 80100 km.This
liaises with a grapple mechanism at the end of a rotating
600 km tapered tether in a 700 km orbit, as a highway to
space. The authors promote HASTOL as a completely
reusable, cost-cutting technology for Earth-to-orbit space
access. In a similar vein Hoyt [92] discusses the design and
simulation of a tether boost facility for transport from
LEO to GTO. Proposals for boosting 2.5 tonnes from LEO
to GTO every 30 days are discussed in the paper and it is
also stated that the same facility could be used to boost
1 tonne payloads to LTO. The tether in this system is
tapering but comprises multiple lines to provide both
strength and redundancy, possibly in the form of a
Hoytether [41]. The orbital dynamics are summarised and
the use of an ED tether is discussed. The theme of
deployability continues to receive attention and Pascal et
al. [93] have shown that the use of a crawler sub-satellite
which moves along the tether during retrieval can be
stabilising, particularly if combined with appropriate
length control laws in the form of an intermediate scheme
generalising the previously proposed conventional scheme
and the crawler scheme. The paper presents an in-depth
dynamical treatment of such a scenario and shows by
means of a numerical simulation that the so-called
intermediate scheme reduces the amplitude of oscillation
during retrieval several times over those of the conventional or crawler schemes. The use of crawlers is also
examined in the paper by Goff and Siegel [94] in which two
massive nuclear electric crawlers are tted to the sub-spans
of a symmetrical momentum exchange tether with centralised facility. This is described as boot-strapping and is
proposed as a means of angular speed control in which the
two crawlers move in or out from the centre as required.
Control and stabilisation of tethered systems is examined
for three body congurations by Misra [95] in which a
double-ended payload system, complete with sizeable
centralised facility mass, is analysed in detail. The
assumptions made relate to inextensible, straight-line,
mass-less tethers, with point mass payloads, with the
system COM on a circular orbit and undergoing planar
dynamics. Local angular coordinates are introduced,
allowing the two sub-spans to be at different angles, to
give a two degree of freedom model for which four
principal equilibrium conditions are evaluated. The stability of the equilibrium conditions is investigated for small
perturbations and the eigenvalues of the characteristic
equation show that at best there can be marginal stability
for certain specic conditions, but no asymptotic stability.
Spinning tethers are normally assumed to operate as dumbbells, with axially aligned sub-spans due to centripetal
stiffening during rotation. However, Misra [95] shows that
in cases where this is absent for some reason then the

M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

system sub-spans may well take other orientations, and in

such cases practical issues of alternative stability have to be
considered. This could have relevance to both pre and post
tether spin-up scenarios.
Powell et al. [96] provide interesting insights into the use
of technology for magnetically inated cables for the
construction or deployment of large and highly rigid space
structures. The idea is based on launching the magnetically
inatable cables (MIC) as a compact package of coiled
superconducting cables, which would be cryogenically
cooled and electrically energised on reaching orbit. This
would result in magnetic repulsion, which would then allow
the coiled package to self-deploy into the intended
structural conguration. A network of high-strength
tethers would be required to hold the superconducting
cables in place. This has some similarities in terms of the
end result with the work on space webs by McKenzie and
Cartmell [12] and McKenzie [13]. It is possible that long
structures could also be made this way, which could
themselves operate as large capacity tethers. Hybrid
designs involving two or more tether technologies could
be of great utility for certain space missions. A case in point
is the MXER concept [19,21,22] as discussed already in
Sections 2.1 and 2.2. In [22], Sorensen considers the
conceptual design of an MXER tether boost station,
concluding that a single tether in an elliptical equatorial
orbit could replace staged tethers, using propellantless ED
reboost with highly error-tolerant payload catch mechanisms and tether-end mass concentration.
An interesting practical problem associated with tether
system operation in space relates to the detection of
tethered satellites or payloads, as distinct from free yers.
This problem is addressed by Choe et al. [97]. The ideas in
this paper are based on the fact that the constrained
motion of two or more tethered satellites is quite different
to that of a single satellite with the same position and
velocity at some given instant. The effect of this is that a
conventional orbit detection algorithm for a single satellite
will over predict the orbit of the upper satellite in a tethered
pair and, conversely, will under predict the orbit of the
lower satellite. Two and three satellite tethered systems are
modelled using a multi-body formulation in which constant
length constraints are modelled by means of Lagrange
multipliers. The paper shows that the constraint force
between two satellites in a tethered system, due to the
tether and gravity, can be regarded as a tension expressed
by a Lagrange multiplier which can be used to give the
tether acceleration, and which can be extended to an nbody system where some of the bodies are tethered and
some are not. Observations of the motions of all possible
combinatory pairs of satellites within the system allows
tethered and untethered satellites to be distinguished from
one another, by recognition of non-zero tether acceleration
per unit length (Lagrange multiplier/mass of each satellite).
The information provided by this sort of technique will be
of increasing importance as tether missions increase in
quantity in the future.


Control of tether motions has been a recurring theme

throughout the paper, and for good reason as robust
assurance of controllability is necessarily a central theme in
all architecture and mission plans. The work of Williams
et al. [98] has shown that so-called receding horizon control
using quasi-linearisation and Chebyshev pseudospectral
approximations can effectively be applied for tethers, and
that this does not require extensive computations, and in
fact is reducible to the solution of simultaneous linear
equations. This has obvious implications for practical
system implementation, with good disturbance rejection
and trajectory tracking capabilities.
We conclude this section by referring to ve papers in
which specic missions for tethers are summarised. The
paper by Jokic and Longuski [99] discusses the possibility
of articial gravity provision and free-return aborts for
Mars missions, and proposes a massive tether system with
a habitation at one end and a counter mass at the other,
with rotation of the system about the COM providing
Earth gravity-like acceleration within the habitation. The
concept is centred around the idea of a propellant-free
return of astronauts to Earth in the event of an aborted
landing on Mars for 2014, 2018, 2020, and 2026 based on
the NASA Design Reference Mission. Williams et al. [100]
explain their concept for momentum-enhanced gravity
assist of a spacecraft at a destination planet by deploying a
payload on a tether from the spacecraft in such a way that
it is boosted onto a new escape trajectory. Numerical
simulations are used to validate the proposals made. A
novel method for orbital transfer of a payload by means of
a tether is offered by Kumar et al. [101] based on controlled
deployment and retrieval of the tether. They conrm that
short tether lengths are associated with higher-performance
indices than systems with longer tethers (see Ziegler and
Cartmell [11]). The Icarus student satellite project, Goldberg and Gilchrist [102], is a small active end-mass satellite
developed at the University of Michigan for the ProSEDS
ED mission. The role of ICARUS is as a data collector and
transmitter for tether deployment and dynamics, using
GPS and an aspect magnetometer. Anselmo and Pardini
[103] consider the survivability of space tether systems in
orbit specically around Earth and conrm that single line
designs are unlikely to complete their missions in such a
demanding environment, whereas a relatively simple
knotted and looped design offers much better survivability
of between 95% and 99%. A lot of related information is
also available in [2,4,9,48,50,52,6466,70,71,78,80].
2.7. Deployment scenarios and mission plans
Grassi and Cosmo [104] provide an investigation of the
attitude dynamics of the SEDS system in their paper of
1995. The equations of motion for a rigid body SEDS
payload deployed to a Delta second stage are derived
assuming that the payloads centre of mass is on a circular
orbit, the tether is straight and inelastic, the gravitational
potential can be linearised, and the attitude angles are


M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

small. It is shown that the pitch equation is decoupled from

the roll and yaw equations and for simplicity it is argued
that the remaining roll-yaw coupling can be neglected, as is
the yaw damping term. Application of the Routh-Hurwitz
stability criterion provides conditions for roll-yaw, and
pitch stability conditions. The overall nding of the work is
that payload stability for the SEDS concept is strongly
affected by the initial conditions of the deployment, and
that tumbling around the roll and yaw axes starts as soon
as the payload is ejected from the Delta second stage. An
attachment point displacement system, with motion of the
attachment point along the negative pitch axis direction, is
introduced and shown to be effective in reducing the
tumbling effect about the roll and yaw axes. These ndings
are likely to be of general relevance to many different tether
mission deployment scenarios. A general proposal for
EarthMars transportation using tethers has been given by
Forward and Nordley [61], in which rotating tethers in
highly elliptical orbits operate about each planet. The
paper starts with the observation that Hoyt and Forward
[3] designed a three tether EarthMoon system for rocketfree transportation and that much of the propulsion gain
from this concept came from the outer EEO tether,
principally because of the important and general rule that
boost of any sort is best made from deep inside a planetary
gravity well. The MarsEarth Interplanetary Tether
Transport System, or MERITT, uses the fact that a single
EEO tether, in a highly elliptical orbit, can theoretically
propel a payload to Mars. The tethers at each end are
known as EarthWhip and MarsWhip, respectively, and
rotate rapidly in highly elliptical orbits. The EarthWhip
tether collects the payload from the delivery vehicle from
Earth and releases it later when the tether is near perigee
again and the sub-span is at the high point of its swing,
this necessarily being when the tether is orientated normal
to the tangent to the orbit at perigee. The payload gains
velocity and potential energy from the tether and it then
has sufcient energy to go on a high-speed trajectory to
Mars, with no further boost needed other than mid-course
correction. The payload is then caught at periapsis by the
MarsWhip tether at the highest point of its rotation where
it has its greatest velocity with respect to Mars, and is later
released when its again at periapsis and at the lowest point
of its rotation, with delivery to the Martian atmosphere.
Importantly, the authors state that the system works in
both directions and conclude with the signicant proposal
that the MERITT concept could be applied to other
planets and moons, as a general Rapid Interplanetary
Tether Transport (RITT) system. More unusual mission
possibilities should also be mentioned, starting initially
with the work of Maccone [105] who discusses the use of
tethers to obtain magnied radio pictures of the galactic
centre from distances of 550 AU. This uses antennas
tethered to a spacecraft, with the whole system moving at
uniform speed away form the Sun on a purely radial
trajectory. Further work by Maccone [106], related to the
Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), proposes

the use of two antennas, tethered together in two different

ways, for the purposes of setting up a SETI receiver system
inside the Saha crater on the far side of the Moon, in the
absence of radio frequency interference. In both variants
the tether doubles as the cable connecting the two
The YES2 mission was intended to use a 30 km tether as
part of a sample return system from a Foton-M3 carrier
vehicle, where an inherently safe re-entry vehicle is returned
to inhabited regions of western Europe, areas which would
normally be well out of bounds for space return operations
[72]. The inherent safety feature comes from the use of a
low mass inated return vehicle (of 515 kg), which reenters the atmosphere relatively slowly and at reasonable
temperatures. The tether dynamics provide the correct reentry conditions for the re-entry vehicle, by means of
simple length feedback control. Secondary applications for
tethers are envisaged by Accettura et al. [107] in their paper
on integrated propulsion missions to Mars in which they
suggest that nuclear and superconductive magneto-plasmadynamic (MPD) propulsion could be combined for
EarthMars trajectories, and that tethers could be used
for articial gravity during interplanetary ight, and as a
space elevator in Mars Stationary Orbit, MSO. Considerable cross-referencing is available in the papers of
3. Electrodynamic tethers
3.1. Summary of operating principles
The works of Johnson et al. [16] and Sorensen [18,19]
have already been cited and discussed and it is worth reemphasising their importance and relevance in the applications of ED tether systems. The role of ED tethers is briey
summarised within the road map proposals made in [27].
Conventional ED tether applications harness the effect of
planetary magnetic elds interacting with currents actively
driven, or passively induced, in the tether. Somenzi et al.
[108] investigate the stability analysis of a conventional but
exible ED tether in terms of libration and also lateral
oscillations expanded as normal modes. Simplifying
assumptions are applied, in the form of a circular
unperturbed orbit, the system centre of mass being located
on the parent satellite, constant tether length, and
considering the satellite and ballast as point masses. The
system comprises a satellite vehicle at one end and a ballast
mass at the other, and a Lorentz-type ED force exerted on
the tether, operating either as a drag force or as a
propulsive force, dependent on the direction of the current
ow. The analysis considers the system dynamics with and
without the ED force, and it is shown that a source of
attitude instability comes from resonances occurring
between the out-of-plane libration angle and the ED
forces, for non-zero inclinations. There is coupling between
libration and the lateral modes so this instability also
affects the lateral modes, but far more so for the odd

M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

modes than the even modes. The use of electromagnetics

within formation ying is worth mentioning here, particularly when used in conjunction with tethers to hold
interferometric spacecraft arrays in formation without the
use of on-board propellant. Sedwick and Schweighart [46]
showed that complete control of all relative degrees of
freedom within an array can be achieved by electromagnetic diploes and tethers, and that satellite systems can be
spun-up and controlled in terms of attitude and position in
this way. Returning to more conventional ED tether
thinking, Yamaigiwa et al. [109] discuss the dynamics of
an ED tether applied to deorbiting a space vehicle; note
appropriate cross-references to the terminator tether [86]
and ProSEDS [16,49]. Once again the Lorentz force is
exploited and the mass of the vehicle to be de-orbited is
assumed to be a very realistic 1000 kg, with a 50 kg ballast
mass at the other end of the ED tether. The authors show
that there is a maximum value of the eccentricity of the
initial orbit from which an ED tether de-orbit can feasibly
be achieved, and that the limit of the eccentricity can be
controlled by the Lorentz force, especially in the case of a
small ballast mass and a short tether. Additional useful
reference information is available in [16,63,82].
3.1.1. The TSS-1R mission
One of the most well-known tether test experiments was
the TSS-1R mission, [47,110], in which certain space
plasma-ED processes were to be explored, in conjunction
with the orbital mechanics of a gravity gradient stabilised
system of two satellites linked by a long conducting tether.
The mission is important because the tether EMF and
current reached 3.5 kV and 1 A respectively, providing
signicant insight to viable current collection processes and
the physics of high-voltage plasma shields. The TSS-1R
mission showed that motion relative to the plasma affects
current collection and has to be taken into account in the
orbital dynamics.
3.2. Practical electrodynamic tether designs and proposed
system technologies
The efcient operation of ED tethers relies inherently on
optimal exploitation of plasma physics, and the dynamic
response of ionospheric plasmas is a feature of the paper by
Zhou [111] in which a hybrid analytical-numerical method
is proposed to understand the dynamic response of a 2D
magnetoplasma to a time-dependent current source imposed across the magnetic eld, with the result that
ionospheric plasmas are seen to respond to current sources
induced by a pulsed tether through the excitation of
Whistler waves and the formation of an expanding local
current loop induced by eld-aligned plasma currents. The
author suggests that the method can be extended into three
dimensions and intimates that nonlinear phenomena and
boundary effects could well be important. Shiah et al. [112]
considered the three-dimensional simulation of current
collection in space, specically in LEO, and related their


work to the TSS-1R mission, using a Super Particle

Simulation (SUPS) model for the local orbital environment. The plasmas transient and asymptotic response
behaviour is investigated around a three-dimensional
satellite of realistic geometry. The plasma dynamics are
highly complex and time variant, and it is particularly
noted that the resolution time of a typical experiment is
much longer than the simulated timescale, inferring that
the experiment may not catch the transient effect in space
but emphasising that the transient effects are still very
important. The authors also note that the TSS-1R mission,
despite failing to deliver on principal objectives due to
tether failure, still showed that the measured collected
current was, in fact, around 2.5 times the theoretical
prediction [112]. Gilchrist et al. [113] undertook chamber
tests of simulated ED tethers of different geometries
operating in a dense, high-speed plasma. This important
paper considers cylindrical, at-ribbon, sparse-ribbon, and
mesh tether geometries and shows that the tape tether may
be the best design for bare ED tether geometries. The mesh
tether, with its desirable levels of built-in redundancy, did
not perform as well as the tape, and it should be noted that
end-effect uncertainties also entered into the design
assessments. Computation of current ow in a bare moving
tether formed the subject of the paper by Onishi et al. [114],
in which a particle-in-cell (PIC) method was used to
calculate electron current in a bare tether moving at orbital
velocity in the ionosphere. The PIC method was found to
agree with existing theoretical work for the quiescent
unmagnetised case, and performed well in simulating the
current collection. In the owing case particleeld
interactions associated with the uctuating potential eld
were found to appear and to enhance the current collection
for the tether, but this enhancement was not fully understood at the time of writing. The transmission line
characteristics of ED tethers are modelled by Bilen et al.
[115], with the TSS mission as the backdrop. A voltage
dependent sheath model was developed for ED tether
transmission lines and was implemented within the SPICE
circuit simulation program. This allows complete tethers to
be modelled by including circuit representations of the
tether endpoints, and includes the interactions that they
have with the tether model itself. Large current enhancements were observed at frequencies resonant with the input
reactance, but at the expense of high RF power. It was
proposed that an experiment with controlled power and
loss levels would be useful, in order to enable the direct
measurement of current enhancements. Morris et al. [116]
presented ideas for the use of eld emitter array cathodes
(FEACs) which consist of up to several thousand micron
sized cathode/gate pairs printed onto a semiconductor
wafer for cold eld emission at relatively low voltages,
providing arrays capable of A/cm2 level current densities,
as would be required for tether use. Returning to the
coupling between electrodynamics and dynamical phenomena, Ruiz et al. [117] provided a Lagrangian model for an
elastic tether from which they could perform modal


M.P. Cartmell, D.J. McKenzie / Progress in Aerospace Sciences 44 (2008) 121

analysis in order to investigate the stability of an ED

tether. The intention behind this work was to create a
model that could be used to simulate the dynamics of an
ED tether on inclined orbits, where the tether is found to be
affected by a slow-growing ED instability. Damping is also
included, and both controlled and uncontrolled models are
discussed. It is found that the system is sensitive to
damping and that this generally enhances the system
controllability. The dynamic stability of ED tethers on
inclined elliptical orbits is modelled by Pelaez and Andres
[118] who study the combined effects of orbital eccentricity
and ED forces on the attitude dynamics of an ED tether.
Tragesser and San [119] give an analytical account of orbit
manoeuvring with ED tethers in which the general
perturbation equations are used to develop a guidance
algorithm for ED tethers. The algorithm presented here is
capable of performing any LEO transfer given a sufciently
long time for the manoeuvre, noting that the trajectories
generated are not necessarily optimal. Tahara et al. [120]
provide a basic study of electron collection by a bare tether
satellite and undertook ground experiments in which
metallic tethers were exposed to a simulated LEO plasma
ow, in the presence of a magnetic eld. The general
nding from this work was that the current collection
characteristics of a bare tether in space strongly depend on
the plasma velocity and the surrounding magnetic eld
strength. The stabilisation of ED tethers forms the topic of
a highly readable report by Hoyt [121] in which pendulum
librations, transverse wave oscillations, and skip-rope
modes are all investigated and control laws proposed in
the form of feedback algorithms. It is proposed that the
dynamics of ED tethers can be stabilised by means of such
algorithms during extended periods of operation. Supplementary reference information can be found in [22,69,92].
Korepanov and Dudkin [122] give a short exposition of the
research potential for ED tethers in the lower ionospheric
layers (F-layer and below), however, they conclude that
long duration space experiments at that location are not
likely to be successful due to the high risk of failure from
small high-velocity particles, however, this comes from
considering single-line tether designs as opposed to multiline redundant tethers, which would presumably fare much
4. Conclusions
This paper has attempted to provide the interested
reader with a reasonably broad background to the eld of
space tether research. As has been shown, this is an
extremely active and vibrant research area internationally,
with considerable contributions made to the literature in
recent years. Clearly, space limitations limit the coverage of
this review and the authors admit full responsibility for the
choice of citations, and for any incompleteness of the
review work that has been carried out as a result of this.
The intention has been to provide the motivated student
with a signicant reference resource, notwithstanding the

very large number of papers and manuscripts that have

been published over the whole spectrum of tether activities.
The review paper covers both momentum exchange and
ED applications, and sets theories against mission and
technology development agendas as far as practically
possible. It is shown that both momentum exchange and
electrodynamics can, both separately and together, provide
practical and workable propellantless propulsion, as well as
offering various de-orbiting and re-entry functions.
The authors are indebted to the international research
community for the ideas presented in the paper and the
second author wishes to thank his students and colleagues
for their invaluable support and their many major
contributions. The EPSRC studentship awarded to David
McKenzie is also acknowledged. Finally, we would like to
acknowledge our gratitude to Dr. Robert L.Forward, Dr.
William Berry, and Mr. Michael Eiden for their interest in,
and support of, the tether research that initiated at the
University of Edinburgh in 1996 and which we then
transferred to the University of Glasgow in 1998.
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