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Stamp-size thrusters could propel small satellites into space

Microthruster prototype

This prototype micro thruster from MIT is about the size of a Lego brick.

Needless to say Lego spaceship you as soon as constructed? What if it could possibly have a working thruster the size and weight of a Lego brick?

MIT professor Paulo Lozano is designing prototype “micro thrusters” that will propel pint-measurement satellites in orbit and into deep house.

The director of MIT’s area Propulsion Laboratory believes such micro thrusters and the scaled-down satellites they might energy could radically cut back the cost of house missions compared with typical spacecraft technology.

So-referred to as Cube Sat satellites are roughly the scale of a Rubik’s cube. Dozens of Cubists have been put into orbit over the past decade, ceaselessly as a part of college research projects.

but as an alternative of permitting them to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere as their orbits decay, Lozano desires to equip them with tiny thrusters to extend their usefulness — and give them new performance.

The Lego brick-measurement micro thrusters would be installed on Cubists to propel them in quite a lot of guidance. When a voltage is utilized, a liquid propellant within the micro thruster emits a flow of ions through tiny nozzles. The charged particles propel the satellite ahead.

4 thrusters on this solar-powered ion electro spray propulsion device (imps) may supply perspective control and major propulsion for standard “1U” Cubists, which measure about 4 inches to a side and weigh 2.2 kilos.

“lower than one hundred fifty g of propellant could be required by using a 1U Cube Sat to reach Earth’s break out speed from [low Earth orbit] and explore interplanetary house,” the lab says on its net web page.

It could be imaginable to send a fleet of Cubists to explore the moons of Jupiter, for instance, for a similar value as sending a large spacecraft.

“And that you must do as exciting science as it is advisable with the big ones, like go to Europe,” Lozano stated in an unencumbered. “Why now not? The sky is the limit.”

Other imaginable missions embrace clearing the massive pile of orbital debris floating across the Earth, de-orbiting satellites at the end of their carrier lives, and correcting atmospheric drag in low Earth orbit.

Other researchers are also working on micro thrust expertise for small satellites. Scientists in Switzerland, for example, say they are able to ship a shoebox-size satellite to the moon in six months with only a few drops of fuel.