New Space and Tech

Mini CubesatSpace Thruster That Runs On Water

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
September 15, 2023
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Mini CubesatSpace Thruster That Runs On Water
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.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.