Superconductor technologies designed by researchers at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., aim to hold space-station modules and satellites in place without tethers or retrorockets — by magnetically “pinning” them into place. Using unpowered superconductors and fixed permanent magnets, Cornell University researcher and professor Mason Peck claims a new-age solution to long-standing stability and control problems in space vehicles. This image shows a cylindrical permanent magnet with 1.9 cm diameter flux pinned with its center about 2 cm above the surface of a YBCO superconductor at approximately 77 K.

Since 2005, Peck and his colleagues have experimented with magnetic superconducting building blocks that self-assemble without physically touching. The seminal funding for the Cornell project was under NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts. To perform micro-positioning functions, Peck plans to include tiny electromagnets that can be turned on and off to exactly position two modules, then power down all the electromagnets to lock the assembly into place. For more information, visit www.mae.cornell.edu/ncmrs/ or email Mason Peck at mp336@cornell.edu.