While CubeSats have begun to disrupt the entire satellite industry, a lack of adequate propulsion options continues to limit their adoption beyond experimental missions. Rideshare restrictions limit CubeSats to the non-optimal orbits into which the primary mission delivers them, and often leaves them unable to maintain their orbits against drag from Earth’s upper atmosphere. This restricts CubeSat utility for commercial, persistent Earth science, or interplanetary missions. ExoTerra’s Modular Xenon Micro Electric Propulsion System is a high-impulse propulsion system that enables CubeSats to alter or maintain their orbits and to perform affordable, targeted science missions throughout the inner solar system. The integrated system provides 4-33 mN of thrust and 48-73 kNs of impulse at an Isp from 700-1500 s using a micro-Hall Effect Thruster, and can package in 6 or 9 U of volume to meet the tight constraints of CubeSats. The propulsion system consists of the Xenon propellant and distribution system, a high efficiency PPU that is radiation tolerant to 100krad, the Halo thruster and TVC. The system achieves >.15 mN/Usc, >5 kNs/Up and <1.3 kg/Up.
Potential NASA applications include interplanetary CubeSat missions with a need for non-toxic, high impulse and thrust propulsion systems. With this capability, NASA can send CubeSat missions to the Moon, asteroids, comets, Venus, Lagrange points, or Mars. The scalability of the propellant system design makes it applicable for a wide range of spacecraft sizes and mission architectures.
A compact, reliable, affordable propellant system for SEP expands the utility of SEP for commercial satellites beyond station keeping. Exoterra’s Xenon Micro Electric Propulsion System can be used for orbit raising and maintenance for commercial microsatellites. The system can also be used in an SEP-based upper stage for the burgeoning small launch vehicle market, delivering microsatellites from LEO to GEO orbit or beyond.