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MEMS-Based Electric Micropropulsion for Small Spacecraft to Enable Robotic Space Exploration and Space Science (MicroThrust)
Start date: Dec 1, 2010, End date: Nov 30, 2013 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Our MicroThrust proposal addresses the FP7 target for advanced in-space propulsion technologies for solar system exploration. This research provides a key component in facilitating exploration missions: a technology that can substantially reduce the cost of undertaking particular types of robotic exploration. Building on the framework of a successful ESA study, our team of leading academics, research institutions and space companies has developed a conceptual design of a very small, yet highly performant electrical propulsion system. The conceptual design is based upon experimental data already obtained by team members. As a result we are confident that this system can provide the transportation element for taking nano/micro satellites to any location in the Earth-Moon system and will even allow missions to nearby planets and asteroids. The propulsion system will thus permit new exploration mission concepts. These missions due to their size will be developed within a fraction of the time for conventional missions. Their simplicity, perhaps even single instrument spacecraft, will reduce risk for carrying out the mission. Overall this will dramatically reduce cost of individual missions, thus providing more flight opportunities for planetary scientists and planetary exploration.To achieve these goals the propulsion technology has high performance at low mass and low power demand. The propulsion system is a microfabricated colloid thruster having a high degree of subsystem integration. Our work so far has demonstrated the capability of this concept to have a radically reduced part set making substantial progress towards a thruster-on-a-chip. Our experienced team will take the technology through to the significant position of having tested and fully characterized a breadboard model. The design approach is that this is also a proto-flight model such that gaining the final step of a flight test for the hardware is low risk and low development cost.
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