Altius Space Machines is pleased to announce that NASA has awarded a Phase II contract to develop and space-qualify the “MagTag” satellite servicing interface. This selection follows a successful Phase I effort in cooperation with NASA Langley to produce a prototype modular interface that is capable of transport, emplacement, and exchange of various sub-modules ranging from 1 to 100 kg. The Phase II effort will commence in July, 2019 with the end goal of successfully bringing the updated design to TRL 7 through a full qualification regime for extended LEO operations.
What is a MagTag, exactly?
Altius envisions MagTags as a multi-function “USB Port” for satellites, spacecraft, and persistent space structures. Each MagTag assembly consists of two halves: an active male side, and a passive female side, each with a modular center core that can be configured for specific needs, such as power/data, fluid, or mechanical power transfer. The MagTag is designed to fit within a single 1-U panel, and requires a minimal footprint to install. Furthermore, the combined assembly is very low mass at 350 grams, making it light enough to be incorporated onto small cubesats.
Anchoring grip force is established without the need for any moving parts or mechanical interfaces by using Altius’ patent-pending Electropermanent Magnet (EPM) modules. EPMs are a critical enabling technology which allows MagTags to create large bonding forces with no persistent power consumption, a low volumetric footprint, and a simple mechanical design.
Electropermanent Magnets (EPMs)
EPMs are solid-state, bi-stable, programmable magnet arrays. The magnets can be “programmed” to a desired magnetic state with a short duration energy pulse, and the magnets will remain in that selected state until reprogrammed. By comparison, permanent magnets have a persistent magnetic field that cannot be altered, and electromagnets require a constant power draw to maintain a magnetic state. EPMs combine the best characteristics of both varieties to provide a desired magnetic field that can be turned on, turned off, or altered in strength and polarity to suit the needs of the moment. Power is only consumed during the changing of states, allowing for indefinite anchoring of two MagTag halves with no parasitic power draw or moving parts.
EPM technology is useful not only for MagTags but a wide variety of other applications, from in-space capture arms, configurable tool-changers, and terrestrial automation. Nearly any device which requires magnets to operate could see significant additional capabilities provided by EPMs, and Altius is actively developing other products with this magnetics technology at its core.
Technical Specifications and Features
- Robust: EPMs offer a strong (> 200 – 400N) mechanical connection with no moving parts
- Latching: EPMs only require power and energy (< 10J) to change gripping states from on-to-off, so they can hold an attached payload indefinitely without consuming extra power
- Lightweight (<350g total): Without the need for heavy mechanical connections the overall interface architecture can be produced within a smaller footprint saving on mass and required volume
- Low-Profile: Each interface half can fit within an approximately 7.5 x 7.5 x 2cm thick envelope
- Highly-Capable: The baseline design can support over 500W of transferred power at 28V, and over 1Gbps data transfer rates, all in an interface small enough to fit onto a cubesat
- Reconfigurable: The MagTag design can support a wide variety of customizable interface types, including electrical data transfer, fluid transfer, fiber-optic data transfer, and even linear or rotary mechanical power transmission
- Launch Lock Capable: MagTags are strong enough to support multi-kg payloads during launch, enabling it to serve as a ground-installed hosted payload interface, and serve as a lightweight cubesat deployer
- Scalable: Arrays of MagTags on a pallet can support a variety of module and sub-modules to be installed, using one or more MagTag per module depending on size. Additionally, the general MagTag concept can potentially be scaled up to supporting larger modules
- Flight Heritage: A precursor version of the MagTag has been flown to the ISS, and the core elements of the technology are already undergoing testing in a representative space environment
Potential Applications for MagTags and derivatives
- A sub-module interface for in-Space Assembly (iSA) of space telescopes, habitats, or other persistent platforms
- An IVR/EVR interface for Lunar Gateway and future orbital constructions
- A modular upgrade / maintenance / repair interface for habitats
- A life-extension and capability enabler for upgrade / maintenance / repair of satellites
- A dual-use cubesat/smallsat deployer interface that leaves behind servicing ports
- A swappable hosted payload port for condosats, commercial LEO stations or constellations
- A sensor or droppable payload interface for terrestrial UAVs
- End-effector interfaces for robotic manipulators for satellite servicing, iSA, or terrestrial automation
You can help shape the future of MagTags and the in-space servicing economy
Altius is aiming to make the MagTag as universal and capable as possible to meet the needs of a broad range of potential users. To that end, we need feedback and input from industry stakeholders to ensure that the design direction for MagTag and future variants meets the need of our customers. If you are interested in learning more about MagTags, or have specific requirements you’d like to discuss, please contact us directly at: