Hoverboard technology in space may not sound very useful, but it may soon be leaving Earth. NASA and Arx Pax have teamed up with a couple of missions in mind: the control and manipulation of CubeSats, and low-gravity simulation on Earth.
CubeSats are miniature satellites that can be launched with much larger satellites on already planned missions. Made of small units measuring 10 centimeters (4 inches) on a side, their low-cost makes them useful as research spacecraft for everything from weather data collection to equipment testing.
The goal is to use Arx Pax’s Magnetic Field Architecture (MFA) and hover engine technology to create a “magnetic tether” to attract and control an object from a distance.
“The device will draw as well as repel satellites at the same time, meaning it will hold a satellite at a distance and won’t allow it to move away or toward the capture device,” Arx Pax explained in a statement on its website. “This will enable the capability to capture and possibly manipulate micro-satellites or other objects without making physical contact with them.”
The magnetic field interacts with a conductive surface – such as aluminum or copper. “And conveniently,” says Greg Henderson, co-founder and CEO at Arx Pax, “spaceships and satellites typically have aluminum skins.”
Arx Pax first floated into the public imagination with the Hendo hoverboard – a crowdfunded project on Kickstarter that garnered more than $500,000 (£330,000). Pro-skater Tony Hawk then took it to new heights by skating with the magnetic levitation technology.
But this earthbound fun was just the beginning: The magnetic field architecture could possibly aid the ever-threatening issue of space junk. While a variety of solutions have been proposed – nets, lasers, garbage scows – a magnetic means may be a more achievable option.
Henderson says there is also the possibility of using the technology for low-gravity simulation, “where hover engines could replace comparatively fault-intolerant air bearings,” according to Fortune.
A prototype of this CubeSat-moving device will likely take a couple of years. “It’s exciting to work hand-in-hand with NASA’s brilliant team of scientists and engineers,” Henderson added. “We’re thrilled about the potential impact we can make together.”