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NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts

Plasmonic Force Propulsion Revolutionizes Nano/PicoSatellite Capability

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

We propose to assess the ability of plasmonic force propulsion to advance the state-of-the-art. We propose to numerically simulate plasmonic force fields with asymmetric/gradient geometry and relevant solar light constraints, predict nanoparticle velocity, mass flow rate, and resulting propulsion performance (thrust, specific impulse), and evaluate spacecraft position control resolution and pointing precision enabled by plasmonic propulsion.

The full potential of small spacecraft remains untapped because they lack maneuverability. Plasmonic force propulsion provides attitude control capability for small spacecraft with no power penalty and minimal mass and volume penalty. This creates new capabilities for small spacecraft enabling NASA science and exploration missions that were previously impossible. One of NASA's strategic goals is expanding scientific understanding of the Earth and the universe. NASA envisions a broad class of scientific missions where extremely fine pointing and positioning of spacecraft is required, such as a single Earth observing spacecraft, deployable x-ray telescopes, exoplanet observatories, and constellations of spacecraft for Earth and deep space observations. In recognizing this, the National Research Council emphasized the need for micro-propulsion for extremely fine pointing and positioning of micro-satellites for astrophysics missions. Within the context of these types of missions, we propose to assess the ability of plasmonic force propulsion to advance the state-of-the-art. We propose to numerically simulate plasmonic force fields with asymmetric/gradient geometry and relevant solar light constraints, predict nanoparticle velocity, mass flow rate, and resulting propulsion performance (thrust, specific impulse), and evaluate spacecraft position control resolution and pointing precision enabled by plasmonic propulsion. We will compare our results with state-of-the-art thrusters (e.g., colloid/electrospray electric propulsion) and torquers (e.g., reaction wheels). We will also assess the feasibility of plasmonic propulsion to meet and/or exceed the stringent demands of future NASA missions.

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