NASA SBIR 2006 Solicitation


SUBTOPIC TITLE:Electric Propulsion
PROPOSAL TITLE:Feasibility of a 5mN Laser-driven Mini-thruster

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Photonic Associates, LLC
200A Ojo de la Vaca Road
Santa Fe, NM 87508-8808
(505) 466-3877

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Claude   Phipps
200A Ojo de la Vaca Road
Santa Fe, NM  87508-8808
(505) 466-3877

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT ( Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words)
We have developed a next-generation thruster under a Phase II SBIR which we believe can meet NASA requirements after some modifications and improvements. It is the first practical example of chemically-augmented electric propulsion, using efficient laser diodes focused on an exothermic fuel tape to make a jet. We own the patents on this technology.
Advantages of our thruster technology are large thrust/power ratio (up to 1.35mN/W) and thrust density, small minimum impulse bit (10nN-s) and instantaneous thrust control. Other advantages are absence of magnetic fields, high voltage, toxic chemicals, fuel and/or oxidizer storage tanks, heaters or valves, and the fact that the source of concentrated energy is physically removed from the thrust converter, so that only the fuel, not some engine component, wears or ablates during operation. Engine lifetime will be limited only by the amount of fuel onboard, not by the 200k year lifetime of the diode lasers which generate the ms pulses.
Problems which we want to address in this Phase I effort are inadequate ablative layer thickness control which has led to excessive rms thrust noise, a footprint which is larger than we would like and plume contaminants generated by carbon doping used for laser absorption in the present fuel tape. Our goal is 1% rms thrust noise and an order-of-magnitude reduction in contaminants deposited by the thruster plume.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS ( Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
The work we propose will provide NASA with an innovative, miniature, precision propulsion system which is robust, lightweight, long-lived, with high thrust/power ratio and essentiallly zero erosion of any components beside fuel. The LPT's standard application is to microsatellite nanopositioing and stationkeeping. In that role, it has unique capabilities. It could be useful as a compact, high thrust device for extending complex structures in space. It is the first thruster device in the new field of chemically augmented electric propulsion developed by PA. Because our exothermic ablation fuel polymers have been carefully developed and optimally applied, at 500?N/W the mini-LPT has the largest thrust-to-system-prime-power ratio among microthrusters. It also has macro-level thrust in a micro-thruster. For this reason, it can replace resistojets, cold gas thrusters and other devices where programmable thrust in a low mass package is needed. It also has applications as an electrodeless plasma source.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS ( Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
The same advantages and applications given above also apply to non-NASA satellite applications. We are actively talking with the Boeing Co. and Northrop-Grumman about these.

NASA's technology taxonomy has been developed by the SBIR-STTR program to disseminate awareness of proposed and awarded R/R&D in the agency. It is a listing of over 100 technologies, sorted into broad categories, of interest to NASA.

Fundamental Propulsion Physics
Manned-Manuvering Units
Micro Thrusters
Optical & Photonic Materials
Propellant Storage

Form Printed on 09-08-06 18:19