An efficient micro- resistojet has been developed with thrust in the millinewton level, with a specific impulse of approximately 250 seconds and power input of 20 watts or less that is useful for applications of up to 1,000 hours of operation or more. The essential feature of this invention is a gas- carrying tube surrounding a central heating element. The propellant is flashed into vapor and then passes through a narrow annulus between the tube and the heater where it is cracked (in the case of methanol, into CO and H2) before being discharged through a de Laval nozzle to produce thrust.

A multi-layer radiation shield around the gas tube minimizes heat loss. Also, if methanol is used as the propellant, the simultaneous heating and cracking does not need an additional device. This unit would be especially useful for small satellites, with mass up to 100 kg, and for delta v up to 500 m/sec, and is suited for use with "green" methanol as the propellant where a specific impulse of 220 seconds is expected. Noble metal alloys are the optimal materials of construction. While the microresistojet is especially suited to methanol, many other propellants may be used such as water or, in the case of de-orbiting, many other residual liquids onboard the vehicle.

This work was done by Thomas Brogan, Mike Robin, Mary Delichatsios, John Duggan, Kurt Hohman, and Vlad Hruby of Busek Co. Inc. for Goddard Space Flight Center. For further information, contact the Goddard Innovative Partnerships Office at (301) 286-5810. GSC-15053-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2008 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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