Embodied energy repurposing via energy-harvesting electrodynamic tethers

Jesse K. McTernan, Sven G. Bilén

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


An electrodynamic-tether system in low Earth orbit has the possibility of transferring energy from its orbital potential energy to its electrical system. Thus, electrical energy can be made available for immediate use or stored for later use by transferring energy from the spacecraft's orbital energy. Reciprocally, stored electrical energy can be used to increase the altitude (that is, orbital energy) of the spacecraft. Using the energy stored in the "orbital battery" enables new design options that impact a spacecraft's power budget, orbital dexterity, and/or mission capabilities. In this paper, the concept of "energy repurposing" is introduced, which is the transfer of energy embodied in the orbital energy of unused spacecraft to the electrical subsystem of another spacecraft. The transfer of energy simultaneously powers the useful spacecraft while deorbiting the other. Embodied energy can also be used to extend mission lifetime. The "orbital energy density" is also defined, which relates the energy transferred from a spacecraft's orbit to the electrical subsystem for a given mass and change in altitude. Then, the orbital energy density is used to define a roundtrip efficiency for deboost-boost scenarios. Simulationresults support a value of approximately 1.08 (W · h)/(kg · km) for the orbital energy density.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)789-795
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Spacecraft and Rockets
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Embodied energy repurposing via energy-harvesting electrodynamic tethers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this