2012.C.2.2 NanoTHOR and PowerCube: Affordable Launch and Propulsion for Deep-Space CubeSats


Robert Hoyt and Jonathan Wrobel (1)

  1. Tethers Unlimited, Inc.


C.2 – Propulsion Issues and Launching Capabilities for Interplanetary CubeSat Missions


propulsion, power


The development of CubeSats and other nanosatellite platforms has enabled many space missions to be conducted at a significantly lower cost and on a shorter timeline than traditional spacecraft platforms. Ongoing development of CubeSat buses with high-power and processing capabilities, high-bandwidth communications, and maneuvering propulsion could enable them to play a significant supporting role in NASA’s efforts to explore Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), Mars, and the Moon. Currently, however, there exists no clear path for frequent, affordable launch of CubeSats into interplanetary trajectories. Opportunities for secondary ride-share launches into deep space are exceedingly rare, and limitations upon stored chemical energy imposed by primary payload safety considerations make integration of high-thrust rockets highly problematic. We will present preliminary development of two innovative technologies that may together provide an affordable path to interplanetary launch of CubeSats while meeting primary payload safety requirements. The first is the “Nanosatellite Tethered High-Orbit Release” (nanoTHOR) module, which will use a lightweight, high-strength momentum-exchange tether to scavenge the orbital energy and residual propellant of GEO rocket stages to enable multiple CubeSats carried as secondary payloads to be injected into Earth-escape trajectories. The second is the PowerCube™ system, which integrates a high-power deployable solar array, an electrolysis fuel-cell, a simple pressure-fed gH2/O2 pulsed thruster, and a ‘carpal-wrist’ gimbal mechanism to provide propulsion, power, and precision pointing for CubeSat systems. In combination, the nanoTHOR module and the PowerCube system can provide the multi-km/s delta-V’s required for interplanetary missions, and do so in a very rapid manner to enable short transfer times commensurate with CubeSat lifetimes. In this presentation we will discuss concept designs, concept of operations, and anticipated performance with respect to potential missions to Near Earth Objects, the Moon, and Mars.


  • Download slides in PDF format here
  • Low quality video available here


  • Optional paper not submitted

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