The solar system confronts us with countless mysteries that stir the curiosity of humanity’s brightest minds. However, the prohibitive cost of robotic space exploration renders it inaccessible to most scientists. One emergent technology could lower this barrier: the CubeSat. CubeSats are to satellites what smartphones are to personal computers–leveraging miniaturization of electronics to generate comparable capabilities in a smaller package. The CubeSat market is expected to quadruple in value over the next decade. This is because given their lower weight, CubeSats are thousands of times cheaper to launch than conventional satellites. However, existing CubeSat propulsion technology is only adequate for near-Earth orbital space and unsuited for deep space exploration. So the problem remains: robotic solar system exploration is still prohibitively expensive. We present a solution to this problem: the H1 magnetically shielded hall effect thruster. H1 is a novel electric propulsion engine optimized to extend the CubeSat market beyond low Earth orbit and into deep space.
H1 uses a quadrupole anode for steering and attitude control, a mechanism which has never been applied to Hall Effect thrusters before. Essentially, by modulating voltage differentials in each of the four sections of the anode we can induce different amounts of thrust. This mechanism can induce a torque and steer the CubeSat…without any need for gimbals or moving parts! Our elegant compact design considerably reduces the engine’s weight, making it ideal for deep space and interplanetary missions. Also, fewer moving parts means fewer potential failure points–which extends the engine’s overall longevity.
H1’s longevity and shelf life is further optimized by our magnetically shielded chamber walls. A magnetic field deflects charged particles from the chamber walls–preventing ion bombardment that often corrodes its structure. Such an innovation allows for far greater durability, allowing for long duration CubeSat missions to lunar and possibly even interplanetary space. It is unprecedented in existing CubeSat propulsion technology. Another feature which optimizes H1 for deep space CubeSat missions is its fuel: krypton. Until now, the industry standard fuel of choice has been xenon. However, krypton confers a key advantage over xenon:it’s 20 times cheaper, leading to an unprecedented improvement in affordability. Krypton also has an excellent erosion profile, and does minimal damage to the chamber walls of the thruster over its operational lifespan. Additionally, Krypton also yields a better specific impulse than xenon.
Collectively, the quadrupole anode steering and attitude control mechanism, magnetic shielding, and krypton fuel make the H1 poised to disrupt the CubeSat propulsion market and expand it beyond Earth’s orbit and into the solar system as a whole. Consequently, robotic deep space exploration can be done at a vastly reduced cost. This will have the potential to revolutionize solar system exploration, opening a new vista of opportunity for the legions of planetary scientists and astrophysicists who would like to answer fundamental scientific questions but are stifled by prohibitive costs. H1 has the potential to not only disrupt the CubeSat market, but ultimately democratize access to deep space and herald a golden age of discovery.