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SBIR Phase I: MEMS Ion Thruster for Microsat and Nanosat Applications
Phone: (303) 216-2950
Phone: (303) 278-4436
This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project will investigate Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) ion thrusters for microsat and nanosat applications based on a new and innovative ion production technology. Small satellites offer exciting possibilities for future communication and surveillance missions. Unfortunately, the thrusters needed for these spacecraft to maintain precise attitude control and orbital position over extended missions do not yet exist. Classic electric propulsion (EP) thrusters such as Xenon ion thrusters do not scale well to the small sizes needed for microsats. Field Emission Electric Propulsion (FEEP) and Colloidal thrusters have better scaling properties, but also have problems with high operating voltages and heavy power supplies. This project presents a new approach to the ion thruster that promises to be significantly simpler to implement and miniaturize, creating heavy ions in a manner that is inherently charge balancing and eliminating the need for separate electron beam neutralization. Technologies that promise to reduce the cost of access to space as well as make space-based activities more productive could transform the market for space services. Many space experiments and applications are currently never attempted due to the high costs associated with current launch vehicles and very long lead times associated with government projects. Revolutionary improvements in launch vehicle costs and availability, currently being pursued by private companies could stimulate high demand for small satellites and other payloads. These microsats would benefit greatly from the development of new high performance, lightweight, inexpensive and reliable electric thrusters.
* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *