Event Title

Development of a CubeSat Water-Electrolysis Propulsion System

Session

Pre-Conference: CubeSat Developers' Workshop

SSC13-WK-35.pdf (2379 kB)
Presentation Slides

Abstract

Over a decade ago the development of the CubeSat standard and the P-POD deployer ushered in a new era of low cost technology demonstration and science missions. Up to now, however, CubeSats have been limited to missions requiring low power levels and little or no propulsion, largely due to high costs and restrictions on stored energy designed to protect primary payloads during launch. The development of high power generation systems and small-scale propulsion solutions that comply with the P-POD launch restrictions will greatly increase the scope and utility of missions serviceable by this low cost satellite platform. The Water-Electrolysis Thruster (WET), a novel “green” CubeSat propulsion system, will allow missions to launch with a safe, storable and non-toxic propellant – deionized water. Once on-orbit, water is electrolyzed to supply gaseous oxygen and hydrogen to a versatile bi-propellant thruster. When integrated with an innovative deployable solar array as part of the PowerCube™ module, the WET propulsion system will let the CubeSat platform reach its full potential and accomplish high performance missions involving precision pointing, orbit raising, plane changes, and rapid response. When supplied sufficient water, either before launch or from ISRU upon arrival, the WET propulsion system will even enable CubeSats to travel beyond LEO and ultimately conduct science and exploration missions to GEO, Lagrange points, the Moon and NEOs. This paper will focus on progress made by Tethers Unlimited, Inc. towards the development of the Water-Electrolysis Thruster. The authors will discuss efforts to design and build a compact CubeSat scale water-electrolysis fuel cell capable of functioning in a zero gravity environment, as well as a pulsed microthruster that utilizes gaseous oxygen and hydrogen propellants. Preliminary test results will be presented, demonstrating gas production rates up to 6 cm3/min/W and fuel cell efficiencies up to 88%. The design of a modular microthruster will be discussed, and a preliminary analysis of hot fire testing will be presented. Several high performance missions enabled by the WET propulsion system and the standalone PowerCube™ module will be highlighted.

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Aug 10th, 11:25 AM

Development of a CubeSat Water-Electrolysis Propulsion System

Over a decade ago the development of the CubeSat standard and the P-POD deployer ushered in a new era of low cost technology demonstration and science missions. Up to now, however, CubeSats have been limited to missions requiring low power levels and little or no propulsion, largely due to high costs and restrictions on stored energy designed to protect primary payloads during launch. The development of high power generation systems and small-scale propulsion solutions that comply with the P-POD launch restrictions will greatly increase the scope and utility of missions serviceable by this low cost satellite platform. The Water-Electrolysis Thruster (WET), a novel “green” CubeSat propulsion system, will allow missions to launch with a safe, storable and non-toxic propellant – deionized water. Once on-orbit, water is electrolyzed to supply gaseous oxygen and hydrogen to a versatile bi-propellant thruster. When integrated with an innovative deployable solar array as part of the PowerCube™ module, the WET propulsion system will let the CubeSat platform reach its full potential and accomplish high performance missions involving precision pointing, orbit raising, plane changes, and rapid response. When supplied sufficient water, either before launch or from ISRU upon arrival, the WET propulsion system will even enable CubeSats to travel beyond LEO and ultimately conduct science and exploration missions to GEO, Lagrange points, the Moon and NEOs. This paper will focus on progress made by Tethers Unlimited, Inc. towards the development of the Water-Electrolysis Thruster. The authors will discuss efforts to design and build a compact CubeSat scale water-electrolysis fuel cell capable of functioning in a zero gravity environment, as well as a pulsed microthruster that utilizes gaseous oxygen and hydrogen propellants. Preliminary test results will be presented, demonstrating gas production rates up to 6 cm3/min/W and fuel cell efficiencies up to 88%. The design of a modular microthruster will be discussed, and a preliminary analysis of hot fire testing will be presented. Several high performance missions enabled by the WET propulsion system and the standalone PowerCube™ module will be highlighted.