The space market is a niche yet lucrative market for thermionic devices. NASA's deep-space missions might replace or augment radioisotope thermoelectric generation systems with thermionic systems, while in near-space, it may be possible to harvest thermal energy off monopropellant and bi-propellant propulsion systems (depending upon operating temperature/duration). Such energy generation technology can be utilized for continuous or pulsed-power generation for a variety of spacecraft, rover vehicles, and basecamp power needs. While Busek does not have experience with radioisotope generation systems, it does have design and development experience with small chemical thruster systems (<20N green monopropellant systems). Such systems have been known to initiate and run at temperatures close to or exceeding the forecasted thermionic power generation threshold of 700k (800 degrees F/ 427 degrees C). Coupling power generation with chemical propulsion warrants further exploration for both spacecraft as well as missile systems; such systems potentially being coupled with pulsed-power electronics, another area where Busek has design and development experience.
In the commercial space market, roughly 20 GEO launches and 25 non-GEO launches occur on an annual basis (excludes micro/nano-satellites), with most spacecraft having a number of chemical thrusters aboard for orbit-raising and station-keeping. In addition to Busek's own chemical propulsion systems, potential space customers include chemical thruster manufacturers such as Rafael, EADS, ECAPS, Northrop Grumman, Moog (AMPAC), Aerojet. Collectively, these firms represent the large majority of chemical systems flow in the industry. Potential customers for radioisotope power generation include ESA missions and NATO customers. The largest terrestrial market in terms of economic benefit, is industrial thermal energy recovery. The United States industrial sector uses one third of the country's energy. Improved waste heat recovery technology, in which some of the used energy could be "recycled", would lead to lower operating costs and decreased environmental impact and is therefore of great interest. Applications in which bulky, complex heat engines cannot be used need compact, solid-state devices that require little to no maintenance. The potential improvements enabled by a C12A7 electride thermionic generator device, in both efficiency and flexibility of use, could lead to a significant decrease in costs for industries such as glass manufacturing, cement manufacturing, iron and steel manufacturing, aluminum production, and metal casting.