Hoverboards in space? How NASA is adapting mag technology

NASA has teamed up with Arx Pax, a company known for the most advanced hoverboard we've seen, to expand its technology's far-reaching applications.

Courtesy of Arx Pax
NASA has teamed up with hover engine technology company Arx Pax to create devices able to control satellites from a distance.

In hopes of being able to steer its satellites from afar, NASA has teamed up with Arx Pax, the same company that brought us the Hendo, the most advanced functioning hoverboard we've ever seen.

"The collaboration – which takes the form of a Space Act Agreement – aims to find a way to manipulate tiny satellites called cubesats without actually touching them," reports Space.com.

The partners are creating a device to control the attraction between objects, according to a statement released Wednesday: 

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. This will enable the capability to capture and possibly manipulate micro-satellites or other objects without making physical contact with them.

NASA’s system will incorporate the same magnetic field architecture (MFA) technology used in both the famous hoverboard and in maglev trains, whose engines create and manipulate magnetic fields in order to hover over conductive surfaces, according to Space.com.

Magnetic movement varies by device, notes Line Shape Space. "Where maglev needs tracks to stay balanced, the Hendo can move in multiple directions."

"The hover engine essentially creates 'swirls of electricity' that form magnetic fields both within the hover engine and the conductive surface. By manipulating those fields, the hover engine can cause repulsion or attraction," explains The Verge. "It can make something hover."

Hovering is moot in orbit, of course, but by controlling attraction and repulsion, Arx Pax can move objects gently through space, without risk of collision.

The hovercraft-supporting technology was originally designed to hover buildings during earthquakes, according to Line Shape Space. 

"The first epiphany came when I started studying how trains are levitated," said Greg Henderson, who co-founded Arx Pax with his wife, Jill. "If you can levitate a train that weighs 50 tons, why not a house?"

"As an architect, I have an obligation to protect people and property from natural disasters," he said. "We’ve had people reaching out to us from the transportation industry, from entertainment, recreation, from education, from seismic isolation. It’s difficult to comprehend how the rules change when you no longer have to touch the ground."

Mr. Henderson envisions MFA technology seeping into virtually every industry, from making it safer to recycle steel in the ship-breaking industry to performing cleanup in sterile environments. His technology could save wineries millions in spillage losses during earthquakes.

Arx Pax is currently working on a number of projects with Fortune 500 companies, reports Line Shape Space. A prototype for its satellite device with NASA will be developed over the next few years.

“We are looking at the problems industry and humankind have faced our entire history and approaching solutions differently,” Henderson said. “All of a sudden, if you don’t need to touch the earth, all sorts of things are possible.”

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