MEMS builds tiny space thruster that runs on water

MEMS builds tiny space thruster that runs on water

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

Researchers in the UK have developed a tiny thruster for small satellites using micromachined MEMS technology.

The Iridium Catalysed Electrolysis CubeSat Thruster (ICE-Cube Thruster) developed with Imperial College in the UK is based on electrolysis of water to generate hydrogen for propulsion.

The combustion chamber and nozzle measure less than 1mm in length and was built with a MEMS (Micro-Electrical Mechanical Systems) approach.

A test campaign achieved 1.25 millinewtons of thrust at a specific impulse of 185 seconds on a sustained basis from a 20W current. Testing took place through an ESA General Support Technology Programme De-Risk activity, to prove the thruster’s feasibility in a laboratory testing.

The experimental data gathered during this activity will help guide development of a flight-representative ‘Engineering Model’ of the propulsion system, including the electrolyser. This development will be led by URA Thrusters in collaboration with Imperial.

URA Thrusters in Aylesbury, UK, was set up in 2019 as a spin-off from the AVS group in order to commercialise the use of water for in-space propulsion and also works with Surrey Space Centre and the University of Southampton.

Researchers in the US at Purdue University showed a water-based thruster for nanosatellites back in 2017.



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