Press Release

Busek Wins NASA Contracts for Small Spacecraft Propulsion

By SpaceRef Editor
August 21, 2013
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NATICK, August 22, 2013 – Busek Co. Inc., a US space propulsion and systems firm, won two NASA Small Spacecraft Technology Awards via a competitive proposal process for developing new propulsion technologies.  The awards were received for the proposals, “Iodine RF Ion Thruster Development”, and “1U CubeSat Green Propulsion System with Post-Launch Pressurization”.  The development of these propulsion technologies would significantly advance capabilities for micro and nano-satellites for scientific and commercial space missions.

Getting your daily dosage; the “Iodine RF Ion Thruster Development” program will expand upon Busek’s existing work using iodine as an alternative propellant to xenon.  Iodine fuel allows for a three-fold reduction in storage volume and eliminates the need for heavy pressurized storage vessels versus traditionally used xenon propellant. Its ability to store as a solid at sub-atmospheric pressure, and its passive storage requirements make it the ideal fuel for de-orbit systems or storing launch-ready spacecraft.  Lastly, extensive experiments in the laboratory have shown iodine’s performance is on par, or slightly better than that of xenon.  Busek’s Iodine RF Ion Thruster (RFIT) is being developed to achieve orbit-raising and station-keeping for microsatellites in the <100kg mass range, or de-orbit for satellites in the same weight class. 

A technology bearing significant safety benefits for the CubeSat market and beyond is envisioned with Busek’s “1U CubeSat Green Propulsion System with Post-Launch Pressurization” project.  Using ionic liquid “green” propellant in place of highly toxic hydrazine allows for safe handling during spacecraft integration.  In addition, the system will have zero tank pressure at launch, lowering risks associated with ride-sharing missions.  

These improvements promise to vastly simplify launch safety reviews and their associated costs and timelines. “These two awards from NASA allow Busek to continue its record of creating innovative spacecraft systems.  Our Hall thruster group performed initial [iodine] thruster characterization experiments in 2010, and we believe iodine electric propulsion systems can beat xenon on a number of levels; particularly in volume limited satellites.  Both iodine and green propulsion technologies make launch operations safer while opening up new possibilities, particularly for high energy orbits such as Lunar and Sun centric missions.” said Vlad Hruby, President of Busek. 


About Busek Co. Inc.Busek Co. Inc. (Busek) is a leading supplier of solar electric propulsion, power management, and systems engineering services.  Its technology capabilities suit the needs of a wide range of space vehicles; from small, micro, and nano-satellites to medium and large commercial communications satellites.  Busek developed the first US Hall effect thruster to operate in space and holds 19 patents (current or pending) in the field of electric propulsion.  Busek was founded in 1985 and is a privately held S-Corporation located in Massachusetts.

Contact:W. Dan Williams, Ph.D.Director of Business Development wdanwilliams@busek.comBusek Co.

SpaceRef staff editor.