Modest Motor Has Revolutionary Applications


Satellites make many of our everyday activities possible, and the technology continues to improve by leaps and bounds. A prototype, recently completed by [Arda Tüysüz]’s team at ETH Zürich’s Power Electronics Systems Lab in collaboration with its Celeroton spinoff, aims to improve satellite attitude positioning with a high speed, magnetically levitated motor.

Beginning as a doctoral thesis work led by [Tüysüz], the motor builds on existing technologies, but has been arranged into a new application — with great effect. Currently, the maneuvering motors on board satellites are operated at a low rpm to reduce wear, must be sealed in a low-nitrogen environment to prevent rusting of the components, and the microvibrations induced by the ball-bearings in the motors reduces the positioning accuracy. With one felling swoop, this new prototype motor overcomes all of those problems.

ETH Zurich Satellite Motor DiagramThe primary draw is its frictionless motor — made possible by a magnetic field that keeps the rotor afloat. This allows the motor to operate at a staggering 150,000 RPM — twenty times faster than those in current use —  and in a vacuum, since there is no wearing of the parts to account for. This also eliminates those pesky microvibrations — improving satellite attitude accuracy. All these benefits are enclosed in a small package that has potential applications in satellites as small as shoeboxes. Is the motor scale-able for use in commercial and research satellites? Considering the interest shown by the European Space Agency in this project, we think so.

Now, this isn’t a traditional ‘hack’, but ingenuity that can improve quality of life is in keeping with the hacker spirit, while also offering the potential for advanced capacity for CubeSats and similar space-faring operations.



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