Do you know the CubeSats ? It is a format of nano-satellites designed by the Polytechnic University of California and Stanford University in 1999, in order to reduce the costs of launching very small satellites and to allow universities to develop and implement. orbit their own spacecraft.
Unfortunately, since 2013, only commercial entities and private companies have carried out satellite launches into Earth orbit. The reason for this is that the CubeSats have so far been deemed unreliable because they lacked good propulsion technology. Indeed, of the 2,700 CubeSats and other nanosatellites that have been created so far, less than 10% of them have a means of propulsion.
Fortunately, Howe Industries has designed a revolutionary engine that may soon allow CubeSats to go into space, according to Universe Today .
CubeSats' old propulsion options were too dangerous
The problems with the lack of good propulsion technology are that CubeSats are exposed to gravity and atmospheric pressure, which risks deorbing them while they are still functional.
Likewise, CubeSats not equipped with this technology cannot maneuver or adjust their orbit, increasing the risk of collisions with other satellites and space debris.
Howe Industries CEO Dr Troy Howe explains in a press release that the problem with existing propulsion options is that:
On the one hand, these systems require substantial power to operate, siphoning energy from the main payload. Then there are the more energetic propulsion systems (…) These are based on toxic, highly pressurized or even explosive liquids such as hydrazine. This is problematic because most CubeSats share an orbit path and launch providers are reluctant to endanger their other, often more valuable cargo. Deployment from the International Space Station (…) excludes any satellite propulsion which could also present a risk for the station and the personnel.
A motor powered by solar energy
But Howe Industries has developed a revolutionary motor, called ThermaSat, which features plug-n-play technology and uses solar power.
This steam engine worthy of the greatest “steampunk” works is effectively endowed with an optical surface exposed on the condenser of the machine which transforms the water into superheated steam for a moment before it is projected by the rear nozzle.
The compact and lightweight motor is made up of two moving parts and can deliver a total impulse of 1800 Newton-seconds using just 1 kg of thruster. This energy is enough to maintain a CubeSat at 375 km altitude for more than 5 years and at 250 km altitude for several months.
Without this propulsion, the CubeSat would desorbitate in a few weeks. Yet, if a CubeSat is in orbit for a long time, it can provide higher resolution remote sensing, reduce communication latency, and even warn in the event of a crisis or natural disaster. In addition, a CubeSat equipped with ThermaSat is able to modify its orbit to better observe an ongoing situation.
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An engine compatible with larger satellites
In addition to supporting the CubeSat, the ThermaSat can also be used to conduct geolocation missions, to perform programmed deorbitation or simply to help the spacecraft avoid a collision. The inventors of ThermaSat are also encouraging the use of their technology for larger satellites.
According to Howe Industries, the greatest strength of the "steampunk" engine is the fact that it enables a new class of autonomous satellites to relay data and work together to perform specific tasks.