Authors: David Krejci, Alexander Reissner, Bernhard Seifert, David Jelem, Thomas Hörbe, Florin Plesescu, Pete Friedhoff, Steve Lai

Published On: May-June 2018

Event: Demonstration of the IFM Nano FEEP Thruster in Low Earth Orbit, 4S Symposium 2018, 56, Sorrento, Italy


The IFM Nano Thruster is a variable specific impulse electrostatic thruster based on Field Emission Electric Propulsion (FEEP), in which a liquid propellant is electrostatically extracted and accelerated to high exhaust velocity. The core element of this propulsion technology is a passively fed, porous ion emitter consisting of 28 sharp emitter tips. This emitter technology has been developed and qualified over decades at FOTEC and the Austrian Institute of Technology, and has recently been adapted for the use as main propulsion system in Nano- and Small-satellites. The resulting IFM Nano Thruster occupies approximately 0.8 U and can be operated between 10 and 40W, resulting in thrust of up to 0.35mN. The thruster can be operated at specific impulse levels between 2000s and 6000s, adapting to mission needs as well as power availability, allowing for significant throttling capability between a couple of μN and 0.5mN. Due to the high specific impulse and high propellant density, the thruster can produce total impulses between 5000Ns and beyond 12000Ns when operated at specific impulses at 2000s and 5000s respectively. The first IFM Nano Thruster has been successfully integrated into a commercial 3U CubeSat in 2017 after undergoing environmental testing, and was launched in January 2018 for a first in-orbit demonstration (IOD). This IOD represents the first instance of a liquid metal FEEP thruster to be operated in space as a primary propulsion system. This paper will present the FEEP thruster principle and experimental characterization, including the first in-orbit test results.

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