MIT develops satellite engine the size of a postage stamp

first_imgThe inexorable march of technology is making access to space cheaper than ever. Researchers all over the world are beginning to use so-called nanosatellites to explore space on the cheap — there are already several dozen “CubeSats” orbiting Earth. Now, the smarties at MIT have unveiled a new type of thruster that could totally revolutionize how these small satellites are used.These nano-orbiters, which are about the size of a Rubix Cube, really only have the space for an array of scientific instruments. The designers of nanosatellites usually forego propulsion systems to save space and weight. The tiny thrusters developed at MIT are so small that several of them can be mounted on the surface of one of these units, allowing it to change orbit and possibly perform rolls.The thruster is small and flat, about the size of a postage stamp. On the surface is a blanket of 500 microscopic tips that, when stimulated with an electric current, emit a stream of ions. This device is essentially a very small ion engine. The base of each tip has a reservoir of plasma sufficient for long-term use. In freefall, small amounts of force can build up without friction.These micro-thrusters wouldn’t just be great for the folks using them, but for anyone else looking to get into space as well. With all these cheap satellites going up sans propulsion, there is concern that mountains of dead CubeSats will be left in orbit, thereby worsening the space junk problem. In addition to taking themselves out of orbit, MIT’s tiny ion engine could solve space junk issues further by allowing nanosatellites to de-orbit larger objects that have been abandoned.These thrusters aren’t going to take you into orbit, but they’re really cool science.More at MIT, via Dvicelast_img read more

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