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Steamjet to develop new water-based propulsion system for CubeSats and small satellites

NEWS: Steamjet Space Systems signs up to SPRINT for collaborative project with University of Southampton

Will collaborate with University of Southampton on SPRINT business support programme to qualify the system for space missions

Steamjet Space Systems has signed up to the national SPRINT programme to access space-enabled expertise and facilities from the University of Southampton. The collaborative project with SPRINT partner, the University of Southampton will enable Steamjet to test and validate a new water-based propulsion system for CubeSats and small satellites.

The new Steamjet system uses water or any other low pressure, non-toxic and non-corrosive fluid as the propellant to create thrust in a low power resistojet. Unlike high pressure cold gas thrusters or hazardous monopropellant systems, the Steamjet propulsion unit is safe for launch-site operations, or storage within the International Space Station, reducing the overall mission risks. The propulsion system allows small satellites and CubeSats to stay longer in space, change and optimise their orbit, operate in constellations and de-orbit at the end of their missions.

The propulsion system also has a unique ‘tuna can’ shape factor that allows its installation outside the main CubeSat structure, providing more space for its payload or other subsystems within the satellite.

The University of Southampton capabilities that will be utilised for the Steamjet SPRINT project include:
• David Fearn Electric Propulsion Laboratory and Thermal Vacuum Test Facility
• µ-VIS High Resolution X-Ray Computed Tomography (CT)
• Spacecraft Environmental Vibration Test Facility
• IRIDIS 5 High Performance Computing System

The project will be funded by a grant from the £4.8 million SPRINT (SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology) programme that provides unprecedented access to university space expertise and facilities. SPRINT helps businesses through the commercial exploitation of space data and technologies.

Marco Pavan, Managing Director of Steamjet Space Systems said: “Nanosatellites (CubeSats) were initially used in a disposable way with no propulsion, mainly for technology demonstration missions. Companies and governments are now looking at them for commercial and scientific missions, however the absence of propulsion capabilities is limiting their range of applications.

“At SteamJet we are developing a technology, sustainable and green, to propel small satellites. Our water-based propulsion system converts water to steam to produce an extremely safe and affordable system. In addition, the installation of the propulsion system outside of the nanosatellite leaves more space inside.

“To qualify our technology, we needed a series of tests to prove effective operations in space conditions and SPRINT is a very good fit for what we’re trying to achieve. SPRINT partner, the University of Southampton, with their great expertise in electric propulsion, had everything that we needed to qualify the system. The tests will allow us to qualify the system for space in simulated conditions and we’re also planning tests in space.”

Dr Charlie Ryan, Lecturer in Astronautics at the University of Southampton added: “With space-enabled capabilities including simulations, vacuum chambers and thermal chambers, the University of Southampton offers comprehensive facilities and expertise in resistojet and electric propulsion systems.

“We can validate performances of the basic thruster design and see how it reacts to an in-orbit environment through thermo cycling. This project will be the first time that we’ve used the vacuum chamber to verify a thruster and this will enable us to validate the Steamjet Space thruster as suitable for space flight, subject to ESA/NASA standards.”

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