Ion Control System

Ion Control System (GSC-TOPS-237)
An electric propulsion system, suitable for small satellite attitude control, precision orbit control, constellation formation management, and extended low-thrust maneuvers
Small satellites are satellite of low mass and size, usually under 500 kg. Satellites can be used for gathering of scientific data and radio relay. The ideal propulsion system for small satellites is one that balances reliability, high performance, scalability, contamination issues, low pressure operation, safe propellant containment, low cost, and simple design in order to meet performance requirements. Previous attempts to utilize vacuum arc technology for spacecraft propulsion has had several issues. Currently, many vacuum arc thrusters lack a sufficient operational lifetime because of their lack of propellant feed systems. Additionally, many thrusters have uneven erosion over the cathode face, thus changing the thruster characteristics and plume direction during operation. Uneven erosion also creates macroparticles that decrease thrust. Current thrusters lack a collimated plasma plume. Lack of collimation decreases the thrust and can cause contamination issues such as resetting electronics components or coating the satellite. The Ion Control System is a micro propulsion system that is low cost, high performing, flight proven, reliable, easily configurable, and scalable.

The Technology
The Ion Control System (ICS) is a low cost, high performing, flight proven, reliable, easily configurable and scalable micropropulsion system that can be implemented within constraints of typical small satellite costs. The ICS utilizes all commercial off-the-shelf components, so no specialized parts need to be purchased or machined, which makes the system cheap and simple to integrate. The ICS improves upon previous vacuum arc thruster designs. The system improves increases overall efficiency by decreasing overhead power loss. The ICS utilizes a chamfered copper anode, which decreases power loss in anode by decreasing resistivity of anode material and allows for better heat dissipation, decreasing the amount of macroparticle ejections. This also decreases macroparticle and ions from implanting in thruster components. The system uses a circular Halbach Array and permanent magnets to nozzle plasma. This increases ion velocity and greatly improves ion beam collimation and improves even cathode erosion over long duration testing. The thruster head has a decreased overall footprint due to its aluminum housing. This creates better heat dissipation and structural integrity. The system does not utilize a center-anone design. Rather, it uses a center-cathode design, which increases ion beam collimation, maximizing thrust by ensuring ions are not encountering obstacles, and ensures no off center thrust vectoring or reset of electronics boards from ion backflux. Furthermore, ICS uses tungsten fuel instead of nickel to increase total propellant per given area, thrust per power, and specific impulse.
Landsat 7 image of Seattle, Washington acquired August 23, 2014. Landsat 7 is a U.S. satellite used to acquire remotely sensed images of the Earth's land surface and surrounding coastal regions. It is maintained by the Landsat 7 Project Science Office at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. Landsat satellites have been acquiring images of the Earths land surface since 1972. Currently there are more than 2 million Landsat images in the National Satellite Land Remote Sensing Data Archive.
  • Easy to integrate with satellites
  • Low cost
  • Reduces contamination likelihood
  • Enables easy customization

  • SmallSat propulsion
  • CubeSat propulsion
  • Formation flying technologies
Technology Details

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