The Physics of Multivector Additive Propulsion.

H. Industries
The Startup
Published in
9 min readFeb 8, 2020

Distributed Thrust Concept

Multivector additive propulsion is a novel method for generating thrust using a layered swarm of satellites. Each satellite releases stored solar energy in a burst through a superconductive electromagnet, generating a strong electromagnetic pulse wave that pushes against the satellites in the layer above. Applied in a square pyramidal swarm of satellites, the combination of upwards impulses can be used to propel small shipping containers to other planetary orbits, where the process is applied in reverse. This is a novel method as it is generated from the net thrust vector of multiple launch pulses combined using the swarm geometry, a technique that is not possible with a singular source of thrust.

The swarm is built in a square pyramid with the cargo shipping container mounted on a flat steel plate atop a 2x2 layer of satellites magnetically attached to the base of the plate. The next layer of 3x3 satellites is a short distance away, the same distance again to a 4x4 layer and so on. This square pyramidal expansion of layers ensures that the approximately spherical expansion of the electromagnetic field from the top of the solenoid is equalised across the area of the square, directing the net forward momentum of the smaller square layer above. The result of this is the expansion of distance between satellite layers rising upwards and the final ejection of the cargo and launch plate on the net force vector.

Figure 1. Launch Pulse Geometry

Inductance Mechanics

Wikipedia has a thorough explanation of the mechanics of inductance in their comprehensive electromagnetic physics article: “The unit of inductance is the Henry (H), which causes a voltage of one volt, when the current is changing at a rate of one ampere per second.” This definition describes the effect of the electromagnetic field of the launch pulse, inducing a pulse of current in the satellite wing above relative to the field strength at the wing frames surface. The current circling in the wing frame generates a weak field itself that magnetically opposes the launch pulse field, creating a vector in the direction of the stronger field as the weaker field is propelled away. This is effectively a collision, instead of two cars crashing and moving together in the direction of the car with the greater mass and speed, it is electromagnetic fields and the net movement forwards of the next satellite layer.

The electromagnetic field interaction of a satellite unit’s launch pulse reaching the steel framing in the base of the next satellite above has the same effect as seen in the Ring Launcher experiment. The electromagnetic pulse induces a weak current in the satellite above’s frame which creates a weak electromagnetic field itself and pushes against the strong pulse wave. This interaction of strong and weak electromagnetic fields results in a net force vector that propels the higher layer of satellites forward, with each layer of the swarm acting like a ring launcher or the next turn of a coiled spring.

(Algarni, Gleason & Mohanakumaran, 2014) Ring Launcher Force Interaction

To frame this problem analytically, determine the launch pulse strength, the inductance in each satellite above and the mass of a satellite, launch plate and cargo. This system can be modelled in MS Excel by dimensioning each component of the satellite design, creating a swarm array table and applying the mechanics. Results can be compared quickly by building component selection as a series of drop down menus to define system level functions.

Inductance equations are based on the surface geometry of objects in the field and coil design had a significant impact. Multicoil solenoids use coil inductance calculations to find the resulting total inductance of the electromagnet design, which is a key component for pulse wave calculations and overall swarm reactions. Each component of the multicoil design must have its self-inductance determined then the effect of this component on the others within the design. This creates a system of mutual inductances between the multiple coils and yoke rod in the centre of the solenoid. When one coil’s electromagnetic field induces a current in the next coil, it reduces the energisation required to bring that coil up to full power — creating a cyclic effect from the system of mutual inductances. This is the key to multicoil designs generating 100T+ field strengths in pulsed high magnetic field research.

The table below lays out the component self and mutual inductance elements of the multifactor time variant problem that models a launch pulse:

Table 1. Inductance Calculations & Substitutions

Launch Pulse Power

The launch pulse’s field strength is determined in three distinct stages, giving an approximately trapezoidal shape when overall power consumption is graphed against time. The first time step is the triangular ramp-up stage as the magnet is energised by the capacitors, second is the rectangular flat top of consistent power output for the duration of the launch pulse and the third is the down-ramping depowering of the solenoid.

Each stage can be modelled as simple power expenditure over time line graphs generated based on the satellite design. The size of the satellite determines the available space for the superconductive solenoid, power storage and refrigeration systems which in turn define the thrust capability. The solenoid materials and dimensions define the peak power capacity of the coil and the energisation requirement for peak field generation. The capacitor system & pulse transformer peak throughput rates determine the energisation rate of the coil and thus ramp up time to peak field strength.

Due to high earth orbit operation, a satellite is sitting in a negative ambient temperature that fluctuates moderately during the orbital cycle. The solar radiation input rate defines the edge boundary of the satellite thermal partial differential equation, where containment chambers and refrigeration must be capable of maintaining the solenoid at 2K, drawing energy that could otherwise be used in the launch pulse. In this way, a number of dependent components & systems reduce the available electrical power for the launch pulse, so a depth of discharge factor must be used to limit the power drain. Each of these systems can be dimensioned in Excel from component designs and series of equations that model the physical behaviour of the satellite and create a picture of the launch pulse dynamics.

The ramp-up stage energises the superconductive coil with power, creating the electromagnetic field up to a peak rate of continuous flat power consumption. This power consumption over time graph is a right angle triangle, with the peak at the pulse waves rectangular flat-top power output once the magnet is energised. The gradient of the ramp-up triangle is limited by the energisation rate of the pulse power transformer and capacitor system.

Breaking each stage of the pulse down to simple linear results in three time steps gives the inputs to the electromotive swarm model and allows the field interaction force results to be found. The field interaction force is created from the field strength of the pulse applied at the spatial position of the next satellites wing frame. This result applied to the inductance of the material in the frame creates a resultant induced field strength along with a mechanical force moment and defines the direction of the resulting thrust vector.

Figure 2. Launch Mechanics Force Diagram

Orbital Maintenance Method

The swarm’s orbital vector is impacted with each launch, if there was no way to reset the system, it would be a glass cannon. Given the objective of operating this system as a service business, building a glass cannon doesn’t present a viable business case. Instead, the orbital maintenance issue has several solution components, both in satellite design and launch system operation. To explain the orbital maintenance method, design elements must be detailed first as this explains the granular swarm control. The launch reset method to maintain swarm cohesion and return to formation is key to how the swarm maintains its orbital vector.

The central Propulsion Core design is scaled down to create Positioning Propulsion Cores, with several mounted below the satellite and in the wings to give granular intraswarm movement. The PPC’s allow the swarm to manipulate units and organise them using the larger tethered magnetic mass to control smaller untethered magnetic masses, ie singular units within the swarm. The periodic engagement of the PPC’s to create magnetic tethers & maintain buffer spacing works in the same way as the launch pulse field interaction, just like a maglev train. By engaging magnetic tethers across the swarm to anchor the majority of units, singular units and layers can be manipulated using the PPCs of surrounding neighbours. This constant push / pull adjustment of horizontal PPC’s or the strong pull of the main PC is what allows units to pull against the larger magnetic mass without moving other units out of place.

Engagement of the magnetic tethering prior to the launch pulse is a matter of timing, with the first retraction pulse rapidly following the launch pulse. This is critical to stopping the escape of layers moving beyond effective reset range. The strong retraction pulse is followed by a series of graded reset pulses that are used to bring the swarm back to it’s prelaunch spacing. Removing the majority of the outwards velocity in a singular pulse requires coordination between base mounted PPC’s and the lower layers PC engagement. This interaction is repeated several times with decreasing power to minimise structural stresses and risk of satellite collision.

As seen in the Ring Launcher diagram above, the greater magnetic mass of the lower satellite layer is the key to driving the next layer forwards. For the base of the swarm, a non magnetic thrust offset is required in the form of fuel based thruster. This gives each satellite a number of launches at a swarm base layer position before the fuel is expended and the unit must be cycled up in the swarm to another position.

The spatial reference system defines its zero point at the centre of the cargo transfer plate atop the swarm launch pad. This allows the swarm architecture to be modelled in -z depth while the vector mechanics are generated in a positive reference frame from the zero point. Defining cargo vector calculations from a zero position allows the orbital vector to be easily combined with the launch pulse vector, to chart a course for cargo arrival and positional changes required for orbital maintenance. The flip side of this is that it becomes easier to calculate the swarm reset vector algorithm.

The force reaction pushing against the lower satellites from the induced field is negligible, the force on the base layer of moving the combined magnetic mass above is not. By modelling a singular satellite in detail, the swarm representative table can be modelled as a spatially defined array to apply electromotive equations and calculate satellite unit location changes over time from the vector result. The combination of detailed unit modelling with higher level electromotive time function modelling of the swarm during launch pulses can be used to empirically prove the novel thrust method is functional and achievable.

As above, this system can be built and modelled in excel using existing components for validation. The finer details of PPC design, launch pulse energy consumption, depth of capacitor discharge and swarm anchor force values are retained for IP protection.

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References to date: 202.

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