2015 might be the year of the hoverboard. With Back to the Future day rapidly approaching, this year we’ve already had a Guinness World Record set for the longest sustained hoverboard flight and the unveiling of a luxury Lexus hoverboard (which, unfortunately, no one will ever own). Today, Arx Pax, the makers of the Hendo hoverboard–we rode it last November and it was pretty McFly–have announced a new partnership with NASA that will use Arx Pax’s hoverboard technology to tractor beam micro-satellites in space.
Arx Pax is best known for its hoverboard, but the technology that makes it possible is the real star. The company calls it Magnetic Field Architecture or MFA technology. Though Arx Pax is pretty tight-lipped on how exactly MFA works, generally speaking, it’s a device that is able to generate a changing magnetic field, or flux, that is controllable. It’s this flux that allows the hoverboard to glide above a conductive surface–the flux induces an electric current along with its own, opposing magnetic field that “cushions” the board.
According to a press release, NASA has entered into a Space Act Agreement with Arx Pax in order to use their MFA for a device utilizing a magnetic tether–*ahem* a tractor beam–that can manipulate and move micro-satellites in space without touching them. By attracting and repelling a satellite at the same time, a device would be able to move incredibly expensive satellites without the threat of physical damage.
The device will ostensibly be used in NASA’s On-Orbit Autonomous Assembly from Nanosatellites project, which NASA states will “develop advanced autonomous docking hardware based on Halbach magnetic array technology.” A Halbach array is a series of magnets arranged in such a way that when rotating, only one side of the array has flux. Seeing as Arx Pax’s MFA claims to manipulate magnets and therefore flux in much the same way, it should fit in nicely with any existing Halbach tech, and with NASA’s goal to further “reliable autonomous rendezvous and docking techniques.”
“Our collaboration marks a significant milestone for Arx Pax,” said Greg Henderson, co-founder and CEO at Arx Pax in a press release. “It’s exciting to work hand-in-hand with NASA’s brilliant team of scientists and engineers. We’re thrilled about the potential impact we can make together.”
Nerdist’s science editor Kyle Hill once tested a Hendo Hoverboard, and you can check that video out below.