Scientists have created ion thruster for small satellites


21/08/2012

Ion engine size of a coin will soon be installed on the smallest satellites in space. This device was developed by Paulo Lozano, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It bears little resemblance to the usual bulky satellite engines, stuffed with valves, pipes and heavy tanks. The new device is similar in appearance to a computer chip - it is compact and flat. It is covered with 500 microscopic tips that are under stress begin to emit tiny beams of ions. All those sharp tips to build a little whiff of charged particles, which allows you to promote satellite the size of a shoe box, go ahead.

"Their size is so small that several pieces fit on one satellite," - said Lozano. He added that small satellites equipped with multiple ion micro motor can "not only change its orbit, but also to turn and rotate."

Today, about two dozen small satellites called CubeSats in Earth orbit. Each of them does not exceed the size of a Rubik’s cube, and weighs less than 1.3 kg. Their small size allows them to define the category of "nano-satellites." These compact satellites are cheap to produce and run. As their weight is very small, the missile can deliver multiple CubeSats even without additional fuel.

But these small satellites lack of engines, so being in the cosmos, starting passively rotate the lower Earth orbit. At the end of the mission, they burn up in the lower atmosphere.

If CubeSats started to send into higher orbits, it could cause a space debris.

"This debris can collide with other satellites. You can almost complete space age with just a few collisions."

The researchers found that the combination of the 500 tips produces thrust of 50 mikronyutonov. On Earth, it is only enough to maintain a small piece of paper. But in weightlessness, this tiny enough thrust to propel a satellite weighing 900 grams.

Original: Web.mit.edu


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