Assessment of the Use of Tether Technology in the Future Exploration of Mars

Dr Pavel Trivailo

RMIT University

--- Abstract - Full Paper (pdf) - Profile ---

Abstract: The exploration of Mars is a noble objective that embodies the human desire to expand our physical and intellectual horizons. Exploration of Mars also offers to generate one of the most dramatic opportunities for scientific, social and technical advancement in human history. Space tether technology, the subject of this paper, offers to dramatically improve our ability to access and explore Mars, and also stands to undergo significant advancement as a result. The purpose of this paper is to map out the role of space tether technology in the exploration of Mars.

Explorers have long used the most advanced, lightweight technology available and the exploration of Mars will be no exception. Space tethers, which are long, thin strings used to physically connect distant objects in space, are amongst the most advanced, lightweight structures, with some of the most diverse and potentially beneficial applications. Researchers have recognised the potential value of these applications in missions to explore Mars. This paper draws together the work of these researchers, assessing them for feasibility and for their combined impact on the Mars program.

Some of the most promising applications of tethers for Mars missions are:

  • Efficient braking at Mars using Tethered aerocapture in the Martian atmosphere;
  • Efficient braking on return to Earth using Tethered electrodynamic braking;
  • Tossing payloads between Earth and Mars using tethers;
  • Delivering probes to Mars on interplanetary missions;
  • Generation of artificial gravity in spacecraft for the journey to and from Mars.

Each of these applications, and a number of others, will be critically assessed in terms of their relevance and benefit to Mars exploration, the assumptions inherent in their application, and technology advances required for their implementation. From this assessment, a milestone chart showing the likely stages of application of tether technology to Mars missions will be used to highlight how the exploration of Mars can be rapidly accelerated through this technology.

PROFILE: Dr Trivailo is presently an Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the Department of Aerospace Engineering, RMIT University. He is the Head of the RMIT/AMRL (DSTO, Australia) Centre of Expertise in Aerodynamic Loading and the Chair of the Engineering Centre for Aerospace, Mechanical, Manufacturing, Maritime, Automotive Engineering and Renewable Energy Research, with the RMIT Faculty of Engineering. Dr Trivailo is a Member of the International Committee on Tethered Satellite Systems, a Member of the Materials and Structures Committee of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) and an Associated Editor of the "Inverse Problems in Engineering" International Journal. His current research is in the dynamics and control of tethered systems; nonlinear modeling of elastic systems undergoing large rotations and translations; and smart/intelligent systems. His previous areas of expertise include design and testing of space flywheels; flow-induced vibrations and stability of structures; high temperature strength and low-cycle fatigue of modern alloys. Dr Trivailo has developed various new interactive computer packages and simulators with 3D animation capabilities and has been author and co-author of 250 papers, research reports and publications.