Nanosatellite Thrusters

Nanosatellite thrusters that emit a stream of pure ions are the primary of their sort to be solely additively manufactured, utilizing a mixture of 3D printing and hydrothermal development of zinc oxide nanowires. A stainless-steel model (prime) works higher total however is way more costly to provide. MIT researchers discovered {that a} polymer model (backside) yields comparable efficiency at a decrease price. Credit score: Velásquez-García Group

Examine is first demonstration of a totally 3D-printed thruster utilizing pure ion emission for propulsion.

A 3D-printed thruster that emits a stream of pure ions may very well be a low-cost, extraordinarily environment friendly propulsion supply for miniature satellites.

The nanosatellite thruster created by MIT researchers is the primary of its sort to be solely additively manufactured, utilizing a mixture of 3D printing and hydrothermal development of zinc oxide nanowires. It’s also the primary thruster of this sort to provide pure ions from the ionic liquids used to generate propulsion.

The pure ions make the thruster extra environment friendly than comparable state-of-the-art gadgets, giving it extra thrust per unit circulation of propellant, says Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, principal analysis scientist at MIT’s Microsystems Expertise Laboratories (MTL).

The thrust offered by the machine, which is in regards to the measurement of a dime, is minuscule. The drive may be measured on the dimensions of some tens of micronewtons, a thrust about equal to half the burden of one of many sesame seeds in a hamburger bun. However within the frictionless surroundings of orbit, a CubeSat or equally small satellite tv for pc may use these tiny thrusts to speed up or maneuver with high quality management.

Velásquez-García says additive manufacturing’s benefits provide new low-cost potentialities for powering satellites. “If you wish to be critical about creating high-performance {hardware} for area, you really want to look into optimizing the shapes, the supplies, every part that composes these programs. 3D printing may help with all of this stuff,” he says.

Velásquez-García and MTL postdoc Dulce Viridiana Melo Máximo describe the thruster within the December 2020 situation of the journal Additive Manufacturing. The work was sponsored by the MIT–Tecnológico de Monterrey Program in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and the MIT Portugal program.

Electrospraying pure ions

The miniaturized thruster operates electrohydrodynamically, producing a high quality spray of accelerated, charged particles which can be emitted to provide a propulsive drive. The particles come from a kind of liquid salt known as ionic liquid.

Within the MIT design, a 3D-printed physique holds a reservoir of ionic liquid together with a miniature forest of emitter cones coated with zinc oxide nanowires hydrothermally grown on the cone surfaces. The nanowires act as wicks to move the liquid from the reservoir to the emitter suggestions. By making use of a voltage between the emitters and a 3D-printed extractor electrode, charged particles are ejected from the emitter suggestions. The researchers experimented with printing the emitters in a kind of chrome steel in addition to a polymer resin.

The researchers have been in a position to detect the pure ion jet utilizing a way known as mass spectrometry, which may determine the composition of particles based mostly on their molecular mass. Usually, an electrospray produced from ionic liquids would comprise ions plus different species manufactured from ions blended with impartial molecules.

The pure ion jet was a shock, and the analysis workforce nonetheless isn’t solely certain the way it was produced, though Velásquez-García and his colleagues suppose the zinc oxide nanowires “are the key sauce,” he says. “We imagine it has one thing to do with the best way the cost is injected and the best way the fluid interacts with the wire materials because it transports the fluid to the emission websites.”

Producing a jet of pure ions implies that the thruster can make the most of extra effectively the propellant on board, and propellant effectivity is vital for objects in orbit as a result of refueling satellites is never an choice, he explains. “The {hardware} that you simply put into area, you need to get many, a few years of use out of that, so I believe it’s technique to do it effectively.”

Benefits of additive manufacturing

Electrospray designs can have many functions past area, says Velásquez-García. The method “can emit not simply ions, but in addition issues like nanofibers and droplets. You possibly can use the fibers to make filters, or electrodes for power storage, or use the droplets to purify seawater by eradicating brine. You possibly can additionally use electrospray designs in a combustor, to atomize gasoline into very small and high quality droplets.”

The nanosatellite thruster is an effective instance how additive manufacturing can produce gadgets which can be “customized, custom-made and made out of finely featured, advanced multi-material constructions,” he provides. As a substitute of utilizing costly laser machining or clean-room applied sciences for specialised industrial manufacturing, he and his colleagues made the thruster totally on business printers utilizing directions that may be distributed extensively.

And for the reason that strategies are comparatively cheap, quick, and straightforward to make use of, Velásquez-García says designs may be “exquisitely iterated” to enhance options and discover stunning results, such because the pure ion emission within the case of the brand new thruster.

Some great benefits of 3D printing microsystems embody decrease prices and shorter occasions for prototyping and growth, together with the convenience of assembling multimaterial constructions, says Tomasz Grzebyk, a microsystems professor at Wroclaw College of Science and Expertise, who was not concerned with the research.

“All these benefits may be seen additionally within the ion thrusters developed at MIT,” Grzebyk says. “And what extra, since there was a fantastic progress in 3D printing in previous couple of years, the parameters of gadgets fabricated utilizing this methodology have gotten just like these obtained by way more advanced, costly and restricted to specialised laboratories microengineering strategies.”

“3D printing know-how can also be continually bettering, probably making it doable to implement within the close to future even higher programs which have smaller options and are made of higher supplies,” he says. “We’re on monitor to producing the absolute best {hardware} that much more folks can afford.”

Reference: “Additively manufactured electrohydrodynamic ionic liquid pure-ion sources for nanosatellite propulsion” by Dulce Viridiana Melo Máximo and Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, 21 November 2020, Additive Manufacturing.
DOI: 10.1016/j.addma.2020.101719

By Rana

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