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cooltwins • Aug 17, 2012

MIT's Microthrusters Can Propel Small Satellites In Space [Video]

Rocket thrusters include different components like valves, pipes and heavy propellant tanks and this makes them bulky. So, they cannot be used in small satellites or 'CubeSats' - that are a little bigger than the Rubik’s cube and weigh less than 3 pounds. Including heavy propulsion systems  in them reduces the space available for the necessary electronics and communication equipment. Therefore, these satellites don’t have a propulsion system and when in space, they are left to passively spin in orbits close to Earth. When their job is completed, they burn up in the lower atmosphere. These CubeSats can not go to higher orbits because they tend to stay back as debris, which takes much longer time to degrade.

But now that situation is set to change. Paulo Lozano, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, has come up with a microthruster that has the size of a chip and adds little to a satellite’s overall weight. It has 500 microscopic tips on its surface and when simulated with voltage, the array of spikes will emit beams of charged particles and this will help propel the small satellite forward. When several thrusters are used, it can be used to propel larger satellites as well.
This device works on capillary action. There are layers of metal and each contains pores smaller than the ones in the previous layer. This will allow the ionic liquid to move up the layers to the tips. Now when an electric field is applied, the ions escape from the tips and this causes thrust. The array of 500 tips produces 50 micronewtons of force, which might look very small at first, but in the zero gravity condition of space this would be sufficient to propel the satellite. Take a look at the video from MIT -

Via: MIT Newsroom

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