Xenon ion and water cubesat engines for interplanetary cubesats with costs ten thousand times less
Benjamin Longmier, Michigan University, is developing the CubeSat Ambipolar Thruster (CAT), a new rocket propulsion system powered by the Sun and propelled by water, which will push small spacecraft like CubeSats around and far beyond the Earth.
They received a $200,000 private donation and have raised over $96,000 on Kickstarter.
What can be enabled with successful cubesat ion drive
* interplanetary missions to Mars and Europa for about $1 million
* Ten interplanetary cubsats for a solar system wide internet
* Cheaper satellite wi-fi around the earth
* Future combination with Spacex reusable rockets, Planetary resources cheap space telescopes, Googlex low cost space robotics for radical lowcost space exploration
A private donor will pay for the Xenon ion technology and a launch in 2014 aboard a NASA rocket. They hope their propelled CubeSats will one day fly to Saturn's moon Enceladus and Jupiter's moon Europa, both of which hold water – and perhaps life. A fleet of CubeSats with propulsion in orbit around a planet or moon can do a lot of things that big expensive satellites cannot, such as monitoring several locations in the atmosphere at once.
Propelled CubeSats could even be useful back here on Earth. Creating a universal "satellite Wi-Fi", like existing satellite phone coverage, would require thousands of big satellites, which is prohibitively expensive. But you could dump a thousand CubeSats in one place then spread them out to the right points, for a fraction of the price.
CAT produces thrust from the expansion of a super-heated 350,000 °C plasma stream. Plasma is an ionized gas that can be accelerated to produce thrust (F=ma). The force generated by this thruster will be very low (micro-newtons) but very efficient. The engine will be turned on for long durations, accelerating the spacecraft to much higher velocities than a typical chemical rocket. Our first test will use xenon, a safe, non-toxic gas typically used in large-scale plasma thrusters. With support from you, we can begin work on our long-term goal of designing a water-based propellant system to make the first truly sustainable plasma propulsion device for CubeSats.