Can static cling occurs in space? Can a static charge be amplified laterally to move objects in space similar to Star Trek's tractor beam? Can a static charge could be carried by a sustained particle beam such as a laser or proton beam?

Possible uses are docking, collision avoidance, recovery and gravity via static cling.

Related: https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/aerospace/space-flight/electrostatic-glider-can-maneuver-around-asteroids-without-expending-fuel

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    $\begingroup$ A laser beam does not carry charge, photons are not charged. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ Possibly related: sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0273117713006364 $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ Also to get a static charge like in the baloon/water picture you must rub it with another object, this means some electrons get from object A to object B. If your ship is the only object in the vicinity (it's isolated!) where the electrons are comming or going? $\endgroup$
    – jean
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ @jean to another ship, object, port. $\endgroup$
    – Muze
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Muze Of course we can transmit signal and even, to a little extend, some eletric potencial but we are speaking of a current of electrons and for that we usually need physical contact or a wire $\endgroup$
    – jean
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 17:41

2 Answers 2


The field strength of an electromagnetic field decreases with r2. This has two effects:

  • small variations in distance create huge changes in the attractive force. This means it's difficult to accurately control e.g. two ships flying towards each other.
  • if you want this field to have a measurable effect over the distances used in space, you need a very strong source.

A strong source means a large static charge. The achievable charge is limited by the relative permittivity of the materials involved, if I remember correctly. Too much charge and you get arcing across your insulator to the nearest object with a different potential.

A particle beam won't be useful as a means to project an electromagnetic force over a distance. If the beam hits the target, it's a weapon. If you aim the beam just to the side of the target, beam and target could conceivably attract each other. The result then depends on the relative mass of target and beam. Since the target will be tens of orders of magnitude heavier than the beam, you'll end up using lots of energy to deflect the target a tiny bit.


No. Charging of objects in low earth orbit is already a major design issue but it does nothing to prevent collisions. The relative velocities are too high for achievable charges to matter.


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