Since the recent trial [with explosive arcing problems] , Peck and his colleagues at the University of Michigan and State University of New York, Binghamton, have successfully tested (but not yet published) their propulsion system, which could speed satellites along at more than four and a half miles a second. More recent tests of solder-less satellites at the University of Michigan have been successful, said Peck.
Peck and his colleagues argue this new kind of mini device could make satellite missions more affordable and feasible.
The propellant-less satellite idea works a lot like a TV. A ‘gun’ at the back of the TV shoots out negatively charged electrons. As they speed towards the viewer, a magnet changes their direction. On a planetary scale, the electron would be the satellite zooming around the magnet, in this case the Earth. As the satellite zooms around the spinning Earth it would experience a force (known as the Lorentz force) pushing it at an angle perpendicular to its direction. The satellite would steal a tiny bit of the Earth’s energy to propel it forward.
Other designs using the same principle, including the Electro Dynamic Tether, have been successfully used in orbit. One difference between the EDT and the new system is that the tether has to be aligned in a specific direction, where the new satellites wouldn’t need to be.