Mini space thruster that runs on water
This tiny fingernail-length space thruster chip runs on the greenest propellant of all: water.
Designed to maneuver the smallest classes of satellite, the operation of this Iridium Catalyzed Electrolysis CubeSat Thruster (ICE-Cube Thruster) developed with Imperial College in the U.K. is based on electrolysis.
Avoiding any need for bulky gaseous propellant storage, an associated electrolyzer 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 Program 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 electrolyzer. This development will be led by URA Thrusters in collaboration with Imperial.
Provided by European Space Agency