The Foundation for the
Non-governmental Development of Space (F.I.N.D.S.) announced it has reached
agreement with MirCorp to fly a 7 kilometer-long electro-dynamic tether aboard
the Mir space station in 2001.
The experiment, dubbed “FireFly,” due to its
visibility from the Earth in the night sky, will demonstrate a totally new way
to help keep spacecraft in orbit that is clean, cheap, passive and doesn’t
disturb experiments or residents aboard a space facility without using
expensive chemical rockets.

“F.I.N.D.S.’ goal is not just to prove this concept and help lower the
costs of operating in space, but to show that good science and engineering
development work can be done faster, better and cheaper than is now considered
normal in the space community,” said F.I.N.D.S. Executive Director, Rick
“The budget for developing the system was only $1.5 million, less
than most paper studies commissioned by government entities.”

FireFly will use electricity generated by the station’s solar panels, fed
down a wire dangling below the station, to cause an interaction with the
Earth’s magnetic field.
This should slowly and gently push the station higher
over time, much the same way magnets repel each other when the same poles are
It is being constructed by Tether Applications in San Diego, who is
under contract with F.I.N.D.S to build and operate the device.
completed, it will be flown to Mir by MirCorp, the station’s commercial
operators, who are donating their resources, including an EVA to mount the
tether’s spool on the exterior of the Mir.

“Tether Applications has already received substantial export licensing
authorization from the State Department in regard to FireFly, and has been
advised recently by State that a final determination on export licensing can
be expected in the near future,” stated Tumlinson.

F.I.N.D.S., a private endowment which funds leading-edge research aimed at
opening the space frontier to human settlement, hopes to share the information
that it gathers from the FireFly project on its WEB page (
The team hopes to interest NASA and the International Space Station (ISS)
partners in using a similar tether on other large space platforms, where the
belief is that it could save tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and improve
research conditions for delicate microgravity experiments.

F.I.N.D.S. funds a wide range of science, engineering and education
projects related to the opening of space for human settlement.
Among these
are the Mars Society’s Devon Island experimental Mars Base, the WATCH search
for killer asteroids, SETI, Carnegie Mellon University’s Solar Sail project,
and numerous conferences and meetings for those leading humanity into space.