SBIR Phase I: High Efficiency, Water-Vapor-Fueled Plasma Propulsion Thruster for Low-Power Satellite Attitude Control and Station-Keeping

Award Information
National Science Foundation
Award Year:
Phase I
Award Id:
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Small Business Information
15 Ward Street, Somerville, MA, 02143
Hubzone Owned:
Minority Owned:
Woman Owned:
Principal Investigator:
Rodney Petr
() -
Business Contact:
() -
Research Institution:
This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project proposes to develop a compact, efficient, all-solid-state Gas-Fed Pulsed Plasma Thruster (GF-PPT) that can perform critical orbit phase changes or plane (inclination) changes for near- and intermediate earth orbit satellites. The GF-PPT technology provides fuel-mass utilization efficiency close to 100%, based on solid-state power modulators that allows high repetition rate (10 kHz) pulsing of the thruster plasma discharge. This is achieved by delivering multiple micropulses to the thruster during the entire operating cycle of the gas delivery system. In the project the tasks will consist of designing and fabricating the GF-PPT thruster, integrating the power supply with the GF-PPT thruster and then characterizing and optimizing the electrical performance of the thruster hardware. A detailed plan will be developed with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to test the proposed high efficiency GF-PPT in an appropriate space chamber. Commercially, the GF- PPT developed in this program will have applications to a broad range of space missions in both the government and private sectors. Significant fuel savings will result from reduced propellant mass, which can be lowered by a factor of three or more using an electric thruster, as compared with chemical thrusters. Furthermore, the GF-PPT can operate with a wide range of propellants, including water-vapor and hydrazine, and the solid-state electronics capability of GF-PPTs can extend the useful life in station-keeping satellites 1-3 years, thereby prolonging mission lifetime. The successful development of the proposed GF-PPT can result in substantial (>10-20%) reductions in launch costs and orbit maneuvering costs. This can save the Federal Government hundreds of millions of dollars per year, when one considers that the current NASA budget for space transportation is over $2 billion/year, and the DoD invests approximately $4 billion per year launching satellites.

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