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SBIR/STTR

LunarCube for Deep Space Missions, Phase II

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Busek, in partnership with Morehead State University (MSU), proposes to develop a versatile 6U CubeSat capable of reaching a lunar orbit from GEO. The primary objective of the Phase II effort is to demonstrate a complete, mini ion propulsion system that provides ~3000sec Isp heretofore unavailable to CubeSats, with a solid-storable iodine propellant. This type of propulsion technology would be a huge mission enabler and ideal for volume-limited satellites such as CubeSats. The 6U bus, combined with ion propulsion, has already shown being highly attractive to science payload developers targeting the upcoming SLS/EM-1 lunar mission. During Phase I Busek successfully demonstrated the world's first iodine-fueled gridded ion thruster "BIT-3". Key performance characteristics of BIT-3 include a compact design envelope (<2U volume), nominal 60W consumption, highly-throttleable thrust of ~1.4mN, and Isp up to 3200sec (nearly identical as with xenon). BIT-3 has a unique advantage of being iodine-compatible due to its plasma generation mechanism and construction material. The ability to use iodine as propellant is a true game-changer for CubeSat propulsion, because iodine can be stored as a dense solid (at 4.9g/cc) and its sub-Torr storage pressure enables very lightweight, even plastic tanks. With a mere 300cc iodine tank onboard, the BIT-3 thruster is capable of providing >2.8km/s delta-V to a 6U/12kg CubeSat. The ultimate goal of the LunarCube program is to undertake a mission to the Moon from GEO or a translunar trajectory (such as the EM-1 drop-off) that would demonstrate the propulsion system, and carry out a lunar science program as a capability demonstration of the platform. During this mission, a related goal is to demonstrate that much of the spacecraft's miniature electronics, primarily C&DH, communications, and the propulsion system's PPU can be based on low cost components and survive the harsh deep-space environment. More »

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Technology Maturity (TRL)

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