Compact Electrospray Propulsion Systems for Small Form-Factor Satellites: An Orbital Performance Survey & Platform Design

Alberto Meza, University of Texas at El Paso


Over the past decades, small form-factor satellites such as CubeSats have remained as one of the most accessible platforms to reach space for universities, research institutions, private and governmental entities to perform a wide range of missions. This paper presents a survey into the design and implementation of an electrospray rail thruster, to be integrated to the CubeSat platform. The design investigated features propellant tanks for each individual thruster embedded inside the rail of a standard 1U CubeSat. The capabilities of utilizing the electrospray thruster as an attitude & determination control system was also investigated in which, a pointing accuracy study was created in order to compare the electrospray thruster to commercially available reaction wheels and magnetorquers compatible with the CubeSat platform. This study determined the minimum arcsecond each technology can achieve within 1 second of operation. Additionally, a mission capability survey was investigated to determine the capabilities of the electrospray thruster and platform, to perform a series of STK scenarios. The first STK scenario investigated the operational life extension of a 1U CubeSat by implementing an electrospray propulsion system with a combined thrust of 48µN compared to a 1U CubeSat with no propulsion. This study found that the 1U CubeSat with propulsion can increase its operational life up to 20 years during a solar minima period on a 500 km altitude initial orbit, and around 1.2 days for the case of the initial orbit of 250 km during a solar maxima period. Additionally, a GEO to Graveyard orbit transfer was investigated utilizing STK. This scenario utilizes the volume and mass of a standard 6U CubeSat with an electrospray propulsion system to perform an orbit change maneuver from an initial GEO orbit of 35,786 km in altitude, to a final graveyard orbit of 36,022 km in altitude within time window of 15 yrs. The study resulted in a total of 55 burn maneuvers, 5 hrs. in length each, performed every 0.3 yrs. until successfully reaching the desired orbit within the 15 yrs time window.

Subject Area

Aerospace engineering|Mechanical engineering|Remote sensing

Recommended Citation

Meza, Alberto, "Compact Electrospray Propulsion Systems for Small Form-Factor Satellites: An Orbital Performance Survey & Platform Design" (2022). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI29212519.