Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Luke Skywalker's space racer hovered unpowered above the ground in the seminal Star Wars movie, but scientists have searched in vain for a real-world technology that realizes the same dream. Now, Cornell University researchers propose that superconductors paired with permanent magnets could fit the bill. Superconductor technologies designed at Cornell aim to hold space-station modules and satellites in place without tethers or retrorockets by magnetically "pinning" them in place. Within six months, the researchers plan to have a working test bed in place to verify that unpowered superconducting architectures can stabilize and control spacecraft. Magnetic pinning works by placing two space modules—one with an unpowered, but supercooled, superconducting coil and the other with an ordinary permanent magnet—near each other. The permanent magnet induces a current in the superconductor that is persistent and exactly opposite to the field of the magnet. In essence, one essentially "grips" the other with an invisible magnetic glove.
Posted by R. Colin Johnson at 10:56 AM