Busek proposes to develop a new form of passive electrospray thruster control which will enable extremely fast thruster operations and thereby unprecedented minimum impulse bits. Busek’s BET-300-P thruster is under active development as a precision reaction control system (RCS) which will provide orders of magnitude improvements over state-of-the-art alternative attitude control systems (ACS) for CubeSats/small-spacecraft. The low inertia of CubeSats combined with vibrational disturbances and resolution limitations of state-of-the-art ACS presently limit precision body-pointing and position control. Busek’s electrospray thrusters aboard the ESA LISA Pathfinder (NASA ST-7) spacecraft, demonstrated control of a proof mass location to within ~2nm per root Hz over a wide band. The BET-300-P, enhanced by exploitation of its high-speed dynamic response in this program, seeks to extend that success to small spacecraft platforms.
Passively fed electrospray thrusters are highly compact, including fully integrated propellant supplies, and are capable of ~100nN thrust precision with 10’s of nN noise. Thrust can be accurately throttled over >150x, up to a scalable maximum of 10’s to 100’s of uN. While typically operated in largely continuous states they are unique in that emission can be electrically stopped/started at ms time scales. Thus, extremely low impulse bits may be achieved over very short durations. In Phase I pulses as short as 1ms permitted throttling from <0.1uNs up to 100’s of uNs. These traits, combined with >750s specific impulse, and thereby low propellant mass could enable these systems to replace traditional reaction wheel ACS and high-propellant mass cold gas systems; enabling milliarcsec control authority for CubeSats versus the present arcsec level SOA.
Phase II will regimentally advance the technology by first performing detailed investigations of critical phenomena and then applying those results towards a rigorously tested engineering model thruster.
Ongoing NASA mission studies include the BET-300-P for attitude control, formation flight and positioning of small spacecraft. Specific benefiting applications include deep-space missions, astronomy, solar-system observations, laser communications and space situational awareness. Mission durations are extended by increased wheel desaturation capacity. Improved body pointing would augment stability; permitting lower cost/complexity realization of existing needs and enabling new objectives.
High-precision small-sat propulsion systems are an enabling technology with numerous applications. The virtual elimination of vibrations while superseding reaction wheel precision is a competitive advantage. Precision pointing/positioning capabilities of the BET-300-P system are otherwise unavailable. Potential customers include international partners (eg ESA), the DoD and commercial EO missions.