We offer a plasma cathode for micro Hall and ion thrusters of unprecedented power efficiency, low cost, compactness, and durability. It employs, among others, a very small planar scandate cathode as electron source. This is a revolutionary cathode technology only recently perfected by e beam inc. It is capable of delivering over 350 ma of discharge from an emitter area only 0.012 cm2. Efficiency in discharge is measured to be > 70 ma/watt of input power. This innovation avoids conventional hollow cathode keeper geometries, which are too expensive, use too much power, and are difficult to miniaturize. The Phase I scandate cathode ran about 1000 hours in CW discharge at 350 ma with no drop in emission or functionality.
We also offer a planar barium oxide cathode at very low cost for low budget CubeSat projects. Also, we offer a series of iridium-based cathodes for use with corrosive propellants such as iodine. We plan in Phase II to continue developing cathodes and keeper geometries. We plan to retrofit these into very small Hall and ion thrusters and test them. We will continue life testing Phase I cathodes and initiate new life tests.
There is a great need for thrusters on CubeSats for attitude control, positioning, orbit raising/lowering that are efficient and low cost. CubeSats have become the great enabling technology for low cost space science projects. Volumes are projected at more than 2000 launches in the next 5 years.
This innovation allows the introduction of electric propulsion to small satellites, with attitude control, N/S positioning, orbit raising/lowering, and formation flying. It is most applicable where power budgets are small, such as in CubeSats. The scandate cathode version of this device yields > 70 ma/watt, record efficiency. NASA Goddard's CubeSats for upper atmosphere molecular species studies could use this device for raising/lowering the orbit. NASA JPL's CubeSats for cloud/surface radar imaging could use it for position/attitude control.
The lost cost of this innovation makes it ideal for CubeSats deployed by universities and small businesses. CubeSats are the great enabling technology for low budget space science projects. This thruster works well with synthetic aperture radars employing numbers of CubeSats flying in precise formation. Companies such as Capella Space are pursuing this opportunity.