MIT SPL delivers the Scalable ion Electrospray Propulsion System (S-iEPS) for CubeSats to NASA

July 2, 2015


The Space Propulsion Laboratory (SPL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has delivered three fully integrated S-iEPS units to NASA today. The S-iEPS is a highly efficient compact thruster system for nano-satellites, which will enable challenging missions even for the small, but increasingly popular, 1-liter, 1-kilogram Cubesats. The S-iEPS features eight MEMS-based ion emitter arrays, containing thousands of microtips packed in 8 square centimeters of active emission area. With a total power consumption of less than 1.5 watts, the propulsion system delivers a thrust of 100 microNewtons at a specific impulse of 1200 seconds, which is sufficient to provide ample maneuverability to small satellites. The thrusters feature non-reactive ionic salt propellants and a design without moving parts or pressurization, relying on capillary forces alone. Each propulsion system weighs about 100 grams and fits in a 9 x 9.6 x 2.1 cm envelope (about 0.2U), including propellant and power and control electronics.

The S-iEPS system has been developed and extensively characterized in the frame of the Game Changing Development Program of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. Propulsion modules have undergone independent thrust measurements at MIT and our partners at The Aerospace Corporation and NASA Glenn Research Center.
“NASA’s sponsorship of this project was pivotal in the training and education of our graduate and undergraduate students”, said Prof. Paulo Lozano, principal investigator of this research effort. “It was incredible the way a system as complex as this was put together through the effort of many students who are well on their way to become rocket scientists”, said David Krejci, a postdoctoral fellow who managed the development program. “We are truly excited to see what possibilities could be enabled by the use of this propulsion technology in small satellites developed in academia, government and industry”, Lozano added. The S-iEPS system will continue to be tested at NASA facilities, while MIT will focus on fundamental research towards the improvement of the technology.

The S-iEPS propulsion systems are shown next to a 1U CubeSat frame for scale reference (SPL)


NASA article