The "NanoTHOR" project aims to connect small satellites with upper rocket stages by using miles-long tethers, so that the rocket stages can spin the satellites around like Thor's hammer. NASA awarded the idea $100,000 from its
program to begin running computer simulations and figure out a hardware design.
"Using a few tricks, we could get that system spinning so the rocket upper stage could swing the nanosatellite out of Earth's orbit and on to the moon or an interplanetary trajectory," said Robert Hoyt, CEO and chief scientist of Tethers Unlimited Inc.
The class of nanosatellites called CubeSats
— tiny satellites the size of a loaf of bread — offer the possibility of replacing more expensive, traditional-size satellites. NASA, the U.S. military and commercial companies have all shown interest in launching several CubeSats at a time by having them piggyback on rocket launches for bigger spacecraft to reach Earth orbit.