Penny Sized Micro Thrusters Could Drive Satellites

120817135544 large Penny Sized Micro Thrusters Could Drive Satellites

Micro-thrust engines smaller than a postage stamp could move future small satellites in space, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Micro-thrust engines smaller than a postage stamp could move future small satellites in space, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In a break from traditional engines, their engine does away with the valves, pipes and heavy propellant tanks of typical bulky satellite engines.

Instead the design, developed my MIT aeronautics and astronautics Professor Paulo Lozano, is a flat, compact square, looking something like a computer chip, with microscopic tips that when stimulated with voltage emit tiny beams of ions when an electrical voltage is applied, the university reported on Friday.

The ionic stream of emitted by the device could propel a small satellite through space, Lozano said.

120817135544 large Penny Sized Micro Thrusters Could Drive Satellites

The team determines that an array of 500 tips produces 50 micronewtons of force, which on Earth could only support a small shred of paper but which in the zero gravity of space would be enough to move a 2-pound satellite.

"They're so small that you can put several on a vehicle," Lozano said.

A small satellite equipped with several micro-thrusters could "not only move to change its orbit, but do other interesting things -like turn and roll," he said.

With micro-thrusters and onboard solar panels to create voltage such a satellite could easily make changes in its position or orbit, the researchers said. The ability to flip, turn and rotate these thrusters only serves to make them even more useful.

“Just like solar panels you can aim at the sun, you can point the thrusters in any direction you want, and then thrust,” Lozano says. “That gives you a lot of flexibility. That’s pretty cool.”

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