Interesting Patents: NASA Patents New Method of Propulsion
U.S. Patent No. 10,927,825 Vacuum arc thrusters for spacecraft, and propulsion systems including the same
Assignee: United States of America as represented by the Administrator of NASA
NASA was issued a patent for a new method of propulsion this week. This method is for vacuum arc thrusters for spacecraft, and propulsion systems including the same. This vacuum arc thruster (VAT) involves using anode and a cathode producing a high voltage arc capable of creating plasma. This plasma is then focused and directed out of a nozzle to create thrust through the use of magnetic fields. The cathode of the device is consumed as fuel as the propulsion device operates.
Compared to previous propulsion technologies that would use a combustible fuel or nuclear power this uses high-voltage electricity to create an arc to propel the satellite. By using an electric propulsion method it enables the use of solar panels to both extend the satellite’s lifecycle and minimize the weight needed for fuel. The use of the permanent magnet-lined nozzle helps direct the plasma and further the propulsion capabilities of the system. The propulsion system is limited by the consumption of the cathode as it is used to create the high voltage arc.
This would appear to be a new generation of possible methods to control small spacecraft and enable a low-cost alternative to traditional propulsion systems. The ability to use solar power to refuel these types of satellites should allow for many new designs and developments in the future.