Liquid Salt Space Thruster

Over the years, the design of space thrusters has struggled with problems like pressurized tanks and expensive propellants. Small satellites don’t need much thrust, but as atmospheric drag pulls them into a downward orbit spiral, they do need some adjustment to stay in orbit. A new thruster system about the size of a pack of gum uses cheap liquid salt as a propellant and an electric charge to create the thrust.

Electrospray thruster makes small satellites more capable – [mit.edu]

Small satellites are becoming increasingly popular tools for Earth-imaging, communications, and other applications. But they have major control issues: Once in space, they can’t accurately point cameras or change orbit, and they usually crash and burn within a few months.

What these satellites lack is a viable propulsion system, says MIT aeronautics and astronautics alumna Natalya Brikner PhD ’15, co-founder and CEO of Accion Systems. “You can make a satellite the size of a softball with a surprising amount of capabilities, but it can’t maneuver properly and falls from orbit quickly,” she says. “People are waiting for a solution.”

Now Accion has developed a commercial electrospray propulsion system — their first is about the size of a pack of gum — made of tiny chips that provide thrust for small satellites. Among other advantages, Accion’s module can be manufactured for significantly less than today’s alternatives.

SEE ALSO:
Ionic Thrust Motor Doesn’t Burn Fuel

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