The Tethered Satellite System (TSS-1R) will soon be launched aboard the Space Shuttle. Circling Earth at an altitude of 296 kilometers (km), the reusable tether system will be well within the tenuous, electrically charged layer of the atmosphere known as the ionosphere. There, a satellite attached to the orbiter by a thin conducting cord, or tether, will be reeled from the Shuttle payload bay. This will grant scientists experimental capabilities never before possible.
On this mission, the satellite will be deployed 20 km above the shuttle. The conducting tether will generate high voltage and electrical currents as it moves through the ionosphere and allow scientists to examine the electrodynamics of a conducting tether system. These studies will not only increase our understanding of physical processes in the near-Earth space environment but will also help provide an explanation for events witnessed elsewhere in the solar system. In addition, the mission will explore the mechanical dynamics of tethered systems, providing information that will improve future missions and possibly lead to a variety of future tether applications.
Tethered spacecraft can be deployed toward or away from Earth. Downward deployment (toward Earth) on future missions could place the satellite in regions of the atmosphere that have been difficult to study because they lie above the range of high-altitude balloons and below the minimum altitude of free-flying satellites. A series of Tethered Satellite System flights, exploring in both directions from the Shuttle, could gather data previously impossible to obtain. Each flight would allow scientists and engineers to conduct new experiments, explore phenomena discovered through previous missions, and develop new uses for tethers in space exploration.
This page contains excerpts from the brochure: "The First Mission of the Tethered Satellite System" developed by the Tethered Satellite System Project Office, NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), Huntsville, Alabama. Authors are C. Blake Powers, Charlotte Shea, and Tracy McMahan, all of the Essex Corporation.