Catalytic Combusion of Hydrogen and Oxygen for an Electrolysis Micro-Propulsion System

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C. Muir et al. (2019), JBIS, 72, pp.2-6

Refcode: 2019.72.2
Keywords: Electrolysis, Micro-propulsion, Catalytic, MEMS, Reactive Ion Etching, Sputter Deposition

The Iridium Catalysed Electrolysis CubeSat (ICE-Cube) thruster concept addresses the growing need for a microscale chemical propulsion system which can cater for the stringent power, propellant and integration requirements of nanosatellite platforms. In situ H2/O2 propellant production via water electrolysis is highly suitable for secondary payload satellites especially when direct gas feed from electrolyzers eliminates any requirement for gas-phase storage. The novel Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) manufacturing techniques involved in thruster fabrication are detailed which allow complex features to be etched into refractory metals and platinum group metals to be precisely deposited. This allows the combustion process to be dominated by catalytic surface reactions which complement the high surface- area-to-volume ratio of micro-propulsion systems. An experimental qualification of a low cost commercial electrolyzer is presented, demonstrating repeatable gas production at efficiencies approaching 90%. Modelling indicates that the proposed system architecture is capable of attaining a specific impulse of approximately 300s, which significantly exceeds current chemical propulsion options without the power restrictions associated with comparable electric propulsion systems. This capability would significantly extend the conceivable mission paradigms of nanosatellite platforms pushing the ∆V capability of a practical 3U CubeSat to beyond 1000m/s.

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