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Mini space thruster that runs on water
The experimental data gathered during this activity will help guide development of a flight-representative 'Engineering Model' of the propulsion system, including the electrolyser. This development will be led by URA Thrusters in collaboration with Imperial.
Mini space thruster that runs on water
by Staff Writers
London, UK (ESA) Sep 15, 2023

This tiny fingernail-length space thruster chip runs on the greenest propellant of all: water. Designed to manoeuvre the smallest classes of satellite, the operation of this Iridium Catalysed Electrolysis CubeSat Thruster (ICE-Cube Thruster) developed with Imperial College in the UK is based on electrolysis.

Avoiding any need for bulky gaseous propellant storage, an associated electrolyser runs a 20-watt current through water to produce hydrogen and oxygen to propel the thruster.

The ICE-Cube Thruster is so small in scale - with its combustion chamber and nozzle measuring less than 1mm in length - that it could only be assembled using a MEMS (Micro-Electrical Mechanical Systems) approach, borrowing methods from the microelectronics sector.

A test campaign achieved 1.25 millinewtons of thrust at a specific impulse of 185 seconds on a sustained basis. Testing took place through an ESA General Support Technology Programme De-Risk activity, to prove the thruster's feasibility in a laboratory testing.

The experimental data gathered during this activity will help guide development of a flight-representative 'Engineering Model' of the propulsion system, including the electrolyser. This development will be led by URA Thrusters in collaboration with Imperial.

Related Links
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