New Horizons in Science

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Next in space: spray-on microthrusters for miniature satellites

Sunday, October 11, 2015 -
11:00am to 12:00pm

One of the hottest items in space these days is the cubesat, a miniature satellite that you can build with off-the-shelf parts at home. Outfitted with miniature computers, cameras and equipment for laser communications, a fleet of cubesats can be lofted on a single rocket into space to do many of the things traditional satellites do. Unfortunately, the ion engines that provide propulsion for satellites don't miniaturize, so cubesats can't move about once in space, and they may contribute to the space debris problem since they cannot push themselves out of orbit. Now Paulo Lozano has figured out how to miniaturize propulsion as well. Lozano's thrusters use thousands of microtips as emitters and liquid salt as a propellant, producing plenty of thrust in an ion propulsion system weighing just 100 grams. He envisions cubesats that would provide high-bandwidth communication to underserved regions of Earth or make cheap testing of space interferometers for science possible. Lozano will report on results from the first tests of the microspray propulsion engines, scheduled for this summer. Social media hashtag: #TinyThrusters


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