Novel propulsion programs for CubeSats have been on an revolutionary tear of late. UT has reported on propulsion programs that use the whole lot from solid iodine to the Earth’s personal magnetic field as a manner of transferring a small spacecraft. Now there’s a potential answer utilizing a way more mundane materials for a propellant – water.
Water has loads of benefits going for it as a propellant. Most clearly, it’s not risky or poisonous, making it a lot simpler to deal with than typical rocket gas. One design flaw holding again the adoption of normal rocket gas into widespread use in CubeSats is their explosive potential. CubeSats are normally housed subsequent to bigger, dearer satellites within the payloads of rockets. If the rocket gas loaded right into a small CubeSat would ignite unintentionally, it might fully destroy the a lot bigger, dearer telescope it’s sitting subsequent to. So CubeSat designers rightfully draw back from together with such a harmful propellant of their small satellite tv for pc.
With out entry to common rocket gas, designers are left with a lot much less fascinating selections for propellant, reminiscent of ion thrusters. Some don’t even choose a propellant system in any respect. This lack of means to controllable navigate house leads to defunct CubeSat cluttering up orbital trajectories in addition to unintentionally deorbiting in an uncontrolled, and doubtlessly harmful, descent.
What makes water such a particular propellant is that it’s fully secure underneath regular situations, however it will also be cut up to create hydrogen and oxygen, two of the primary elements of regular rocket fuel. This cut up is achieved by a course of referred to as electrolysis, which separates that oxygen and hydrogen molecules from the water from each other. Then every particular person factor will be funneled right into a rocket nozzle and exploded to push the craft in a given course.
Electrolysis will truly happen contained in the CubeSat in a specialised miniaturized chamber which is the true coronary heart of this propulsion innovation, and was developed by Tethers Unlimited, a start-up primarily based in Washington. Its system, Hydros, might add its title to the rising checklist of CubeSat propulsion applied sciences, whether it is efficiently examined later this 12 months as a part of NASA’s Pathfinder Know-how Demonstration-1 mission. Given the benefits of its propellant, it has a whole lot of potential to change into a typical propulsion platform for CubeSats for years to come back.
Lead Picture: Artist’s conception of the Pathfinder Demonstrator-1 satellite tv for pc that can take a look at the Hydros propulsion system.
Credit score: NASA