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Microfluidic Electrospray Propulsion: A Revolutionary Approach to Spacecraft Propulsion
I will present a revolutionary approach to spacecraft propulsion that will enable new control paradigms and extraordinarily capable spacecraft platforms as small as cubesats. The Microfluidic Electrospray Propulsion (MEP) thruster is under development with more than a 10x improvement over SOA electrospray thrusters in thrust range, mass and volume with microfabricated components and indium propellant. With batch fabrication of most of the components, this approach to the technology will eventually improve the cost by more than 10x also. Three of the six thruster components are microfabricated at UC Irvine, JPL Microdevices Lab and Caltech. The thruster uses indium metal propellant that stores as a solid and a capillary force-driven feed system, with no valves and no pressurized propellant reservoir. The capillary force driven feed system design and design tools are under development at Caltech and JPL. A 100-micronewton MEP system is expected to have a dry mass that is less than 100 grams, including thruster head, feed system, propellant reservoir and power processing unit. This system will enable six degree-of-freedom precision controls of cubesats and exoplanet observatories to replace reaction wheels. It will enable high delta-V cubesats for interplanetary exploration. The highly integrated MEP thruster technology, microfabricated components, capillary force-driven feed system and thruster applications will be discussed.
Marrese-Reading is a senior engineer in the Electric Propulsion Group at JPL. She received her Ph.D. degree in 1999 in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan with a thesis focused on microfabricated field emission cathodes for micro-scale propulsion systems. She has contributed to the development of various FEEP, Colloid, Hall and Ion thrusters in design, fabrication and testing. She has led many electric thruster development and demonstration tasks since coming to JPL in 1999. She is responsible for the design of the proposed technology and for conducting the proof-of-concept test of the first device. She has authored more than 30 technical papers and journal articles, as well as two book chapters on electric propulsion technology development. She also holds multiple NASA Tech Brief awards, a U.S. patent on related technologies and a patent pending on MEP technology.