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Swiss designed micro motor to cut space exploration costs

2 April 2012

CleanSpace One satellite

Scientists at Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) has developed a new micro ionic motor for powering satellites called MicroThrust, which they claim will cut the cost of space exploration.

EPFL's first prototype of the motor, weighing about 200g, is powered by an ionic liquid, EMI-BF4, which is a chemical compound rather than traditional fuel capable of reducing the cost of satellite launches tenfold.

Swiss Scientists said that the motor would facilitate the mini satellite to cruise at a speed of about 42,000km per hour.

EPFL's Swiss Space Center scientist, Muriel Richard, said: "We calculated that in order to reach lunar orbit, a 1kg nanosatellite with our motor would travel for about six months and consume 100ml of fuel."

Thrust of the motor is generated through extraction of ions from the liquid compound, which will be ejected through an electric field.

The motor will generate thrust by extracting ions from the liquid compound and emitted through an electric field.

EPFL will deploy the newly designed motor on its CleanSpace One satellite, which is currently under development, designed to clean space debris as well as on OLFAR, which is a group of Dutch nanosatellites designed to record ultra-low radio-frequency signals on the moon.

EPFL's Microsystems for Space Technologies Laboratory director and European MicroThrust project coordinator, Herbert Shea, said: "At the moment, nanosatellites are stuck in their orbits."

"Our goal is to set them free," Shea said.

EPFL said that space's vacuum cleaner CleanSpace One would be the first satellite to be powered by the new motor.

CleanSpace One will be completed in one year with the goal of grabbing space debris before pulling them towards Earth's orbit to burn up.

According to the Swiss Space Center, the satellite will take two to three months and more than 1,000 terrestrial revolutions to pull the decommissioned Swisscube cubesat or Tlsat-1 cubesat.

The development of prototype had involved Queen Mary and Westfield College in the UK, Dutch companies TNO and SystematICDesign and Nanospace AB in Sweden as well as EPFL.

 

Image: CleanSpace One satellite, which is currently under development, will clean space debris. Photo: EPFL