The launch of the tethered payload OEDIPUS-A on January 30, 1989 established a new record for the maximum length (958 m) of a space tether. The flight achieved a number of novel objectives in ionospheric plasma physics and tether technology. This report outlines the OEDIPUS experiment (defined as Observations of Electric-field Distributions in the Ionospheric Plasma—a Unique Strategy) and gives some of its preliminary scientific results.

In the 1970s, the word “tether” took on new meaning as space scientists began to plan pairs of spacecraft wired together to co-orbit. Much of the work on tethers in space centers on the idea of flying the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Space Shuttle with a tethered subsatellite. This will materialize in 1992 when NASA and the Italian Space Agency collaborate on the Shuttle experiment Tethered Satellite System [Bonifazi, 1987]. The first version of this experiment uses a conducting tether to draw current from the ionospheric plasma, thereby inducing a variety of electrodynamic phenomena. In addition to providing an experimental facility for plasma electrodynamics, the tethered system is a large flexible structure, and hence an interesting subject for space mechanics research in its own right.