Artists concept of a CubeSat onboard propulsion system. (Photo: Inside Out Visuals)

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a rocket motor concept that could be used to power CubeSat low-cost satellites. The Los Alamos team recently tested a six-motor CubeSat-compatible propulsion array with tremendous success.

The rocket propulsion concept is a solid-based chemical fuel technology, but differs from classical solid propellants because it is completely non-detonable, making it much less hazardous. The rocket motor works in many of the same ways as a conventional chemical rocket motor. A pyrotechnic igniter provides the heat to initiate burn in a high-nitrogen, high-hydrogen fuel section, releasing gasses very rich in hydrogen. Those gasses flow into the oxidizer section and the chemical reaction there creates tremendous heat and expanding gasses that flow through a nozzle, creating the bulk of the motor’s thrust.