A NASA CubeSat will launch into low-Earth orbit to display a brand new sort of propulsion system. Carrying a pint of liquid water as gas, the system will cut up the water into hydrogen and oxygen in area and burn them in a tiny rocket engine for thrust.

Illustration of Pathfinder Expertise Demonstrator-1 spacecraft, demonstrating a water-based propulsion system in low-Earth orbit. Picture credit score: NASA

NASA’s Pathfinder Expertise Demonstrator, or PTD, collection of missions demonstrates novel CubeSat applied sciences in low-Earth orbit, offering important enhancements to the efficiency of those small and efficient spacecraft. The primary mission of the collection, PTD-1, is slated to launch this month aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the Transporter-1 mission from Cape Canaveral Area Power Station in Florida. In one other undertaking, NASA can also be sending a swarm of three CubeSats, referred to as V-R3x, to display autonomous radio networking and navigation.

“We have now a driving want for small spacecraft propulsion methods,” stated David Mayer, PTD-1 undertaking supervisor at NASA’s Ames Analysis Middle in California’s Silicon Valley. “The necessity is for a lot of causes: to achieve a vacation spot, keep orbit, maneuver round different objects in area, or hasten de-orbit, serving to spacecraft at end-of-life, to be good stewards of an more and more cluttered area surroundings.”

This addresses a significant concern, as spacecraft can turn out to be orbital particles on the finish of their missions. The longer defunct spacecraft keep in orbit, the higher likelihood of spacecraft-to-spacecraft collision, creating extra particles.

Water as Gas

The selection of gas utilized in spacecraft propulsion methods can include severe security precautions. Conventional, high-performance fuels pose dangers, together with toxicity, flammability, and volatility. Using such rocket fuels for in-space propulsion methods require intensive security measures, and this drives up mission price.

“To make these propulsion methods possible for CubeSats, good propulsive efficiency must be balanced by security,” stated Mayer. “PTD-1 will meet this want with the primary demonstration of a water-based electrolysis spacecraft propulsion system in area.”

PTD-1’s propulsion system will produce fuel propellants – a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen – from water, solely when activated in orbit. The system applies an electrical present by water to chemically separate water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gases, in a course of referred to as electrolysis. The CubeSat’s photo voltaic arrays harness vitality from the Solar to produce the electrical energy wanted to function the miniature electrolysis system.

These gases are extra energetic fuels than water; burning hydrogen and oxygen fuel in a rocket nozzle generates extra thrust than utilizing “unsplit” liquid water as propellant. This strikes a greater stability between efficiency and security for spacecraft propulsion, which means CubeSats will get extra bang for the buck.

“What’s new is that this method makes use of water because the gas in an energetic manner, with an inherently secure system,” stated Mayer. “This mission will present that we are able to use water electrolysis in a rocket engine in area – that’s fairly cool.”

Water is a cheap “inexperienced” useful resource for propulsion, non-toxic and secure. Inexperienced propellants like water are simpler to deal with, cheaper to acquire, and safer to combine into spacecraft.

“We’re disallowed from utilizing high-performance propulsion methods in CubeSats due to the character of how we launch these missions, specifically by being hooked up to different spacecraft,” stated Mayer.

Most CubeSats and different small spacecraft launch to area as secondary payloads, usually using to area alongside bigger and dearer payloads. Using conventional “high-performance” rocket fuels for CubeSat propulsion methods are prevented as a result of the onboard presence of such fuels would enhance mission danger to different payloads and the launch automobile. The lack to make use of these fuels limits efficiency for small spacecraft propulsion methods.

“Water is the most secure rocket gas I do know of,” stated Mayer.

A Low-Value, Efficient Propulsion System

The PTD-1 spacecraft is a 6-unit CubeSat, comparable in dimension to a shoebox. Its flight demonstration, lasting 4 to 6 months, will confirm propulsion efficiency by programmed modifications in spacecraft velocity and altitude executed by the water-fueled thrusters. The mission will present that this secure, low-cost, high-performance propulsion system works in area and can pave the best way for operational small spacecraft missions.

Flight qualification and demonstration of this know-how will increase small spacecraft mobility and functionality to be used in future science and exploration missions. This know-how might be utilized in future deep-space missions utilizing water assets discovered off Earth equivalent to from comets or the Moon and Mars.

The propulsion system, named Hydros, was developed by Tethers Limitless, Inc., in Bothell, Washington. This know-how was initially developed below a NASA Small Enterprise Innovation Analysis contract after which matured below a NASA Tipping Level partnership. The PTD spacecraft bus was developed by Tyvak Nano-Satellite tv for pc Programs, Inc., in Irvine, California. Tyvak can also be performing payload integration and operations for the PTD-1 mission. Spaceflight Inc. of Seattle is offering integration and rideshare providers for the PTD-1 spacecraft.

NASA’s Ames Analysis Middle in California’s Silicon Valley manages the PTD series. NASA’s Glenn Analysis Middle in Cleveland collaborates because the payload lead on the PTD-1 mission. The mission launches as a part of NASA’s Instructional Launch of Nanosatellites 35, supplied by the CubeSat Launch Initiative, which is managed by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The PTD mission is managed and funded by the Small Spacecraft Expertise program inside the NASA’s Area Expertise Mission Directorate. 

Creator: Gianine Figliozzi, NASA’s Ames Analysis Middle

Supply: NASA


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By Clark