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The University of Southampton

Green space: developing a cleaner, greener, propellant for small satellites

Published: 1 January 2017
Flight qualification thruster
Flight qualification thruster

Key details of this case study:

Summary: Chemical propulsion utilised in space is far from suitable for small satellites, as the propellant used is dangerous and expensive. Our research aims to investigate an alternative green propellant.

Status: Ongoing

Key staff: Dr Charlie Ryan


Photo of Dave Gibbon, Chief Propulsion Engineer, Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL)
This project has resulted in a very promising thruster, which we now just need to find a flight opportunity for. As a result we have developed a very good working relationship with the guys at the University of Southampton.
Dave Gibbon, Chief Propulsion Engineer, Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL)

Explore this case study:

The challenge

Satellites in space currently utilise the very toxic and carcinogenic hydrazine propellant for small thrusters used for attitude control.

Funded by the UK Space Agency through the National Space Technology Programme, our challenge has been to develop a small (1 Newton thrust) chemical thruster propulsion system for small satellites utilising a new greener fuel.

What we did

Working in collaboration with Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, a leading small satellite manufacturing company based in Guildford, Surrey, our scientists have developed the thruster, including a new catalyst and injector.

A thruster has been designed and manufactured, and has successfully undergone duration firing testing within a new bespoke facility at the University of Southampton.

At the bottom of the thruster, which is about 20mm in diameter, is the rocket nozzle, above which are the small pellets of catalyst that decompose the propellant.

Our impact

Using a CT scanner at the University of Southampton Our collaborative team has produced the flight qualification of this thruster for small satellites using a new green propellant.

We achieved a specific impulse for the mk2 thruster of ~160 seconds, approaching the maximum possible, both under vacuum and in atmosphere.

The facilities we used

We used the following facilities within the University - We developed a new small chemical propulsion facility

Find out more about the Engineering and Environment Faculty's many world class facilities.

Partners we worked with

The project is in collaboration with Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, a leading small satellite manufacturing company, based in Guildford, Surrey.

Related Staff Member

Related Staff Member

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