Our CubeSat propulsion system engineers attended the Small Satellite Conference that was held from August 8 to 13 at Utah State University. The conference is an internationally recognized annual gathering for the small satellite community to review achievements and explore opportunities in small spacecraft development. The conference draws prominent speakers from the armed forces, academia and the sciences. This year’s conference brought more than: 2000 participants, 200 students and 600 organizations. There were 141 commercial exhibits and 122 oral presentations. The presentations covered many technological areas related to small satellites including communication, launch, ground systems and propulsion.
The speakers discussing small satellite propulsion systems emphasized the need for systems to be able to perform on-orbit maneuvers, station keeping and controlled de-orbit maneuvers at the end of satellite life. Propulsion systems should also provide safety and be easy to test, integrate and handle. One speaker discussed the advantages of an ion thruster that uses iodine as the propellant. They include the elimination of bulky pressure vessels because the iodine is stored in high density solid form. This in turn makes the propulsion system safer and compliance with safety regulations easier.
A presentation on advances in electric propulsion research with respect to Hall Thrusters reviewed the development of comparatively high thrust efficiencies for large thrusters. This technology has opened the door to deep space missions. The presentation highlighted a modified version of the traditional Annular Hall Thruster. The modified version is known as the Cylindrical Hall Thruster because of its cylindrical ionization chamber. The benefits of the cylindrical ionization chamber include greater efficiency in lower power operation and decreased plasma wall interactions.
If you missed the Small Satellite Conference this year, we hope to see you next year. We encourage you to learn about our contributions to CubeSat propulsion technology and contact us with questions about CubeSat propulsion systems.