2014.B.2.4 Ballistic Reinforced Communication Satellite (BRICSat-P): The First Flight of an Electric Micropropulsion System for CubeSat Mission Applications


Christopher Dinelli (1)
Samudra Haque (2)
Jin Hang (1)
Michael Keidar (2)
Kristen Castonguay (1)

  1. United States Naval Academy, USA
  2. The George Washignton University, USA




CubeSat Propulsion for Interplanetary Operations


CubeSat technology has been improving, and their mission has become increasingly more important in testing and demonstrating new technologies. Future spacecraft buses will need to include micropropulsion systems that allow CubeSats to perform their missions without relying heavily on their respective launch vehicles. Many proposed propulsion systems for small satellites have relied on cold gas thrusters and chemical micropropulsion systems. There have been previous attempts to integrate electric propulsion systems onto CubeSats. However, these systems have shown to be very complex and require ample power generation capabilities, which have sometimes occupied over half of the CubeSat volume.

Recently, the Micropropulsion and Nanotechnology Laboratory at George Washington University has constructed a four-channel Micro-Cathode Arc Thruster (µCAT) subsystem with approximate volume of 541 cm3that can produce specific impulse values up to 3000 s. The researchers at the United States Naval Academy and George Washington University are currently working on integrating the µCAT onto the Naval Academy’s Ballistic Reinforced Communication Satellite (BRICSat-P) in order to demonstrate in space a novel electric propulsion system that is capable of supporting CubeSat missions.

BRICSat-P is a low cost 1.5U CubeSat that will demonstrate on-orbit operation of an electric propulsion system. A four thruster head system will be placed on one side of the spacecraft around the center of gravity and will de-tumble the satellite from its initial expulsion, demonstrate rotational control about two axes, and perform a delta-v end-of-life scenario. Orbital analyses performed indicate that the four thruster-head system is able to fit in a 1.5U CubeSat with low power consumption such that other subsystems such as communication systems can perform normally. Dynamics analysis has been performed in MATLAB Simulink and STK that shows the thrusters can successfully perform the attitude control maneuvers. The project is fully funded and scheduled to launch in March 2015.


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