Feeds

Cubesats to go interplanetary with tiny plasma drives

Boffins seek your cash to sling tiny sats into deep space

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Cube satellites – the current craze among space researchers with more ideas than money – could take a step farther out into deep space, if the University of Michigan has its way.

UoM researcher Benjamin Longmier, assistant professor of aerospace engineering and a propulsion specialist in the university's Plasmadynamics and Electric Propulsion Lab (PEPL), wants to attach small – very small – plasma drives to cubesats, enabling them to travel out into interplanetary space.

There's another task the researchers would need to tick off to send their cubesats out into the lonely spaces between planets: the devices would have to be hardened to withstand the hostile interplanetary environment.

Longmier's partner, James Cutler, heads up that effort, as part of a team selected to participate in NASA JPL's Interplanetary NanoSpacecraft Pathfinder In Relevant Environment (INSPIRE) team, which plans to demonstrate the survivability, communication, tracking and payload hosting on two cubesats delivered to space.

However, to get beyond the delivery point and embark on a deep space mission, the satellites need a propulsion system that takes up no more than one-third of the total cubesat. That caps the volume of the drive at about a litre – 10 centimetres in each dimension.

Cubesat drive fuel storage container

The proposed fuel storage container of the plasma-drive cubesat

With such a tight space to work with, a plasma drive fuelled by gases like xenon or krypton isn't feasible, because the cubesat would carry so little of the gas. Instead, Longmier plans to use water or liquid iodine as the fuel.

“We’re changing the paradigm a little bit and using a liquid propellant. We can store a lot more of it in a very small space,” said Longmier in the university's announcement.

The drive will superheat the fuel to a plasma, and use magnetic fields as the nozzle. And while the thrust is low (equivalent to the force of holding a paperclip in your hand, the university says), it will last as long as the drive is operating.

“You keep these things on for days and weeks and months at a time”, Longmier says. “There’s not much limit to how fast you can go – you’re only limited by how much propellant you can take, and what your speed is by the time you burn through that propellant.”

The project's Kickstarter page is here.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
Software bug caught Galileo sats in landslide, no escape from reality
Life had just begun, code error means Russia's gone and thrown it all away
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
prev story

Whitepapers

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup
Learn why inSync received the highest overall rating from Druva and is the top choice for the mobile workforce.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.