Jump to content

New Thrusters Made for Small Satellites


Recommended Posts

Some people may envision the satellites orbiting above our heads as large, million dollar machines, but more and more small, cheap satellites are being put up. Even though they can be the size of a softball, a lot can be packed into them, but one crucial has been all but missing. These satellites lack the thrusters that are necessary to maintain their orbits, but researchers at MIT have formed a spin-off company, Accion, with a new solution.

This new solution is an electrospray thruster, and its current MAX-1 system consists of eight chips, one square centimeter by two millimeters thick, and a plastic fuel tank. In this case the fuel is a nontoxid, nonvolatile liquid-salt propellant. The chips are placed above the tank, each chip has a porous substrate with about 500 pointed tips on it, and above the tips is an extractor grid. The propellant is drawn to the tips by capillary forces, and when a high voltage is applied to the tips and grid, the propellant is ionized and shoots out from the holes, producing thrust in the opposite direction. The thrust is only enough to move a piece of paper on Earth, but in orbit, it is enough for a small satellite to maneuver with.

Thanks to its relatively simple design, the MAX-1 has a higher thrust-to-mass ratio than other low-power, ion engines, making it a more attractive option. Low-cost chemical-propulsion systems could be made, but as the fuel is not allowed to be carried up on the same rockets as the satellites usually are, they are not really an option.

Source: MIT

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites


  • Create New...