Partnership to launch ground-breaking superconducting magnet in space

Paihau—Robinson Research Institute (Wellington, New Zealand) and Nanoracks (Houston, TX) announce partnership to launch ground-breaking new superconducting magnet technology demonstrator.

Magnet animation

Paihau—Robinson has selected Houston-based hosted-payload provider Nanoracks, powered by Voyager Space, to launch a one-of-kind superconducting magnet technology demonstrator to the International Space Station (ISS).

Paihau—Robinson, an industry leader in high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnet development, is undertaking a five-year research programme into the application of its proprietary magnet technology to applied-field magneto plasma dynamic (AF-MPD) thrusters—a type of electric space thruster. There is currently only one example of a similar thruster being flown in space, with the mass and power requirements of magnetic components being a key technological barrier. Paihau—Robinson is leading the project with support from the University of Auckland, the University of Canterbury, IDS Consulting, and Asteria Engineering Consulting.

Dr. Nick Long, Primary Investigator and Institute Director, says the research leverages Paihau—Robinson's twenty-year track record in HTS magnet technology to drastically reduce the mass and power consumption of these thrusters, “demonstrating a viable pathway to commercial applications”.

The payload will launch to the ISS where it will be installed into the Nanoracks External Platform (NREP) by astronauts on-board the station. Engineers on the ground will then operate the magnet over several months—demonstrating the ability to generate a core magnetic field thousands of times stronger than that of the Earth, along with shielding to ensure the safety and stability of surrounding equipment. The same technology has a variety of other space applications including helping to control a spacecraft’s orientation in orbit with magnetorquers (which use a strong  electromagnet to ‘push’ against the Earth’s magnetic field) and reaction wheels (which store angular momentum in a spinning wheel); radiation shielding; and ballistic re-entry shielding.

Dr Avinash Rao, Project Manager, says operation in a relevant space environment is an important step toward the validation and commercialisation of this key enabling technology.

“Our team is excited to be partnering with Nanoracks to carry this out on the ISS," Dr Rao says.

Maggie Ahern, Technical Lead at Nanoracks, says Nanoracks, a leading provider of commercial space services, expects to launch Paihau—Robinson’s payload no earlier than the first quarter of 2024.

Nanoracks’ External Platform on the ISS provides many critical systems including power, heat sinking, and telemetry, which Paihau—Robinson would have to otherwise design, build, and test themselves. This ISS payload hosting opportunity is being made available through Nanoracks’ Space Act Agreement with NASA.

”We’re thrilled to enable this opportunity for Paihau—Robinson," Maggie Ahern says. “This is exactly why our team built the external platform. We want our customers to take step by step approaches to qualifying their technology in the harsh space environment, while having the opportunity to review data and even receive their hardware back if desired. Congratulations to the Paihau—Robinson team for this first big milestone in their spaceflight journey.”

Contact the Primary Investigator for more information:

Dr Nick Long
Director of Paihau—Robinson Research Institute
04 463 0079

Nanoracks media contact: