Imagine a satellite orbiting around Jupiter. There isn't a lot of solar radiation out there, so it seems useless to try to power such a satellite with standard solar panels.

I thought of powering such satellites with direct induction, using Jupiter's magnetosphere as an energy source.

How could that be achieved? Also, I don't know much about power induction and how to use it as a power source, could you help me please?


closed as off-topic by Mołot, MichaelK, Ash, sphennings, ZioByte Oct 10 '17 at 14:04

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    $\begingroup$ I'm no specialist for these topics, but arn't spaceship often nuclear powered when no sun is available? $\endgroup$ – Morfium Oct 10 '17 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it rather belongs to space.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 10 '17 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ Some research would've given you the answer. Satellites are very similar to space probes, which often use nuclear power. $\endgroup$ – Miller86 Oct 10 '17 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ An artificial satellite is a space probe in orbit around an astronomical body. As for your question: Juno is powered by solar panels. Further out RTGs as usually used. No, you cannot use the magnetosphere for extracting any useful power. Also it would mean that you are tapping energy from your orbital velocity (it is not the magnetic field that generates induction; it is the motion through the field that does it, and from where the energy is tapped). $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Oct 10 '17 at 12:51

We humans have a history of using nuclear power in space to power probes that can’t be sufficiently powered otherwise. The simplest of these generators are Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators.

RTG’s essentially use the fact that radioactive isotopes produce heat as they decay. The temperature differential between the isotope and the outer skin of the ship allows for power generation. RTGs have been used on mars probes as well. They’re comparatively simple and cheap, but don’t produce whopping great amounts of power, making them ideal for satellite operations.

More complex nuclear reactors have also been used, but the main issue with power generation using nuclear methods is that it generates a fair amount of heat, and space doesn’t carry the heat away (it must instead be radiated away) so if you have a lot of power generation you also need large radiators, which might become too large or complex for your satellite if you want to really ramp up the power.

But for most applications I’d say go nuclear. What’s the worst that can happen?

  • $\begingroup$ Exactly this, yes you could use field induction but it would be experimental and needlessly complex compared to proven techniques. $\endgroup$ – Ash Oct 10 '17 at 12:46
  • $\begingroup$ +1 simply for mentioning nuclear reactors, if only I could flag question as answered $\endgroup$ – anon Oct 10 '17 at 13:23

You could use induction, drag a long conductive cable behind the satellite and generate power creating a homopolar generator that converts the satellite's orbital momentum into DC current but there are several problems with this technique:

  1. you don't need it, as @JoeBloggs has pointed out nuclear works perfectly well already.

  2. fuel is finite as such so is orbital momentum so you'd be shortening your mission window to generate electrical power.

  3. Jupiter is a hazardous environment, there are 69 named moons in the Jovian orbital neighbourhood, plus charged gas, micrometeors and just plain dust trapped in the awesome magnetic field generated by the gas-giant. The lifespan of a cable being dragged through all that material is going to be extremely finite. Further Jupiter's magnetosphere is unstable in a way that Earth's simply is not, sudden reversals would leave the satellite powerless or suck it down into the atmosphere, or eject it from orbit as the generator suddenly becomes a motor.

You could possibly go the other way and use a Homopolar Motor with nuclear power generation for navigating around Jupiter if you were careful and didn't try anything too elaborate.

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    $\begingroup$ I can picture the posters now: “Fishin’ for ergs in the jovial Jovian magnetosphere!” $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 10 '17 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ But isn't nuclear power to costy? $\endgroup$ – Mathis Oct 14 '17 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Mathis Not compared to inventing and then building a completely novel propulsion system with an unknown working life that will, by definition, shorten the mission life of the overall satellite system. $\endgroup$ – Ash Oct 15 '17 at 9:52

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