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Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Tech Transfer

Low Cost, Pump-fed, Non-Catalytic Thruster for Secondary Payload Green Propulsion, Phase I

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Flight Works is proposing to expand its technology in micropump-fed propulsion, including 1U CubeSat green propulsion, to the development and demonstration of a low cost, pump-fed, cooled, non-catalytic 1-5 N-class AF-M315E thruster for secondary payload propulsion. Typically, requirements imposed by the primary mission have led secondary payloads to have very limited propulsion capability. For earth orbiting spacecraft, the requirements to reenter within 25 years can be an issue. For lunar or interplanetary missions, lack of significant ΔV capability limits the science potential. For example, the system in the Mars Cube One 6U spacecraft is only capable of a few tens of m/s. Many such nanosats, including CubeSats slated to accompany the primary spacecraft towards Europa, could greatly benefit from real delta-V capability (> 1 km/s) while reducing risks to the primary payload. Flight Works is proposing to develop such capability and focus on the development of a pump-fed AF-M315E thruster. In the novel concept, propellant atomization is improved, conventional materials can be used for the injector and the valve, resulting in a more compact, lower cost, high performance thruster. Also, since the approach to ignition and combustion sustainment does not involve catalysts, the thruster life-limiting component is removed. This thruster is integrated into a micropump-fed system: there is no need for a separate pressurization, the propellant storage and feed system operates at low pressures, and lighter, conformal tanks can be used. This combination decreases system overall size and mass by 20-40% depending on the mission while reducing risks to the primary payload. More generally, the technology is applicable to any propulsion system, whether primary or for attitude control, where hydrazine is currently used, and is competitive with bipropellant systems for microsats due to the reduced system mass. More »

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