Transient response of an electrodynamic tether system in the ionosphere: TSS-1 first results


  • Sven G. Bilén,

  • Brian E. Gilchrist,

  • Carlo Bonifazi,

  • Enrico Melchioni


The electrical transient response of an electrodynamic tether system in low earth orbit has been investigated experimentally and by computer simulation. Our experimental results come from the first Tethered Satellite System (TSS-1) mission flown on the space shuttle in 1992. During this mission a tethered satellite was deployed to a distance of 267 m above the shuttle using a conducting, insulated cable. It is shown by computer simulation that the electrical transient response of the system is due to a combination of both the tether electrical circuit and the interaction of the tether system with the space plasma. In general, ground measurements showed that the TSS-1 electrical circuit is approximately second order and underdamped. However, it was found that on-orbit transient decay as well as the symmetry of transient oscillations could be dramatically altered, following closely with ionospheric plasma density variations. Combined electrical circuit and plasma interaction modeling shows that these differences can be explained by accounting for ion and electron current collection capabilities of the tether end connections with the space plasma. These results have implications for the use of electrodynamic tethers for high current switched applications including direct generation of low-frequency electromagnetic signals and high electrical power generation as well as detection of natural electric field transient signatures.