A new type of micropropulsion system for miniature satellites called CubeSats uses an innovative design of tiny nozzles that release precise bursts of water vapor to maneuver the spacecraft. Low-cost “microsatellites” and “nanosatellites” far smaller than conventional spacecraft, have become increasingly prevalent. Thousands of the miniature satellites might be launched to perform a variety of tasks, from high-resolution imaging and internet services, to disaster response, environmental monitoring and military surveillance. “They offer an opportunity for new missions, such as constellation flying and exploration that their larger counterparts cannot economically achieve,” said Alina Alexeenko, a professor in Purdue University’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. However, to achieve their full potential, CubeSats will require micropropulsion devices to deliver precise low-thrust “impulse bits” for scientific, commercial and military space applications. She has led research to develop a new micropropulsion system that uses ultra-purified water. “Water is thought to be abundant on the Martian moon Phobos,” she said. “making it potentially a huge gas station in space. Water is also a very clean propellant, reducing risk of contamination of sensitive instruments by the backflow from thruster plumes.” Research findings about the new system are detailed in a paper being presented during the 31st AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, Aug. 5-10 in Logan, Utah.”

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