A bare-photovoltaic tether for consumable-less and autonomous space propulsion and power generation

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State-of-the-art electrodynamic tethers reach a steady electric current by using a bare segment to capture electrons passively from the ambient plasma (anodic contact) and an active electron emitter or a tether segment coated with a low-work-function material (cathodic contact) to emit electrons back and close the electrical circuit. This work proposes to take advantage of recent developments on thin-film solar cells and insert a photovoltaic (pv) tether segment in between the anodic and the cathodic contacts. Since thin-film solar cells can be folded and manufactured with any desired length and the same cross-section dimensions as the bare segment, i.e. width and thickness around few centimeters and tens of microns, the resulting device is compact and preserves bare tether simplicity. Detailed analysis of the current and voltage profiles throughout the tether shows that the electrical power introduced by the pv-segment into the tether-plasma circuit improves the performance and makes them less dependent on ambient conditions. The pv-segment decreases considerably the tether-to-plasma bias at the cathodic contact, thus opening the possibility to emit substantial current while using consumable-less electron emitters like thermionic and electron field emitters. The pv-segment also favors the current collection by increasing the tether-to-plasma bias at the bare segment. Propulsion and power generation applications and alternative architectures of bare-pv tethers are briefly discussed.
Electrodynamic tether, Combined bare tether and solar cell, Consumable-less tether with high current, Propulsion and power generation
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Tajmar, M., & Sánchez-Arriaga, G. (2021). A bare-photovoltaic tether for consumable-less and autonomous space propulsion and power generation. Acta Astronautica, 180, 350-360