Space micropropulsion systems for Cubesats and small satellites: From proximate targets to furthermost frontiers

Igor Levchenko*, Kateryna Bazaka, Yongjie Ding, Yevgeny Raitses, Stéphane Mazouffre, Torsten Henning, Peter J. Klar, Shunjiro Shinohara, Jochen Schein, Laurent Garrigues, Minkwan Kim, Dan Lev, Francesco Taccogna, Rod W. Boswell, Christine Charles, Hiroyuki Koizumi, Yan Shen, Carsten Scharlemann, Michael Keidar, Shuyan Xu

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    285 Citations (Scopus)


    Rapid evolution of miniaturized, automatic, robotized, function-centered devices has redefined space technology, bringing closer the realization of most ambitious interplanetary missions and intense near-Earth space exploration. Small unmanned satellites and probes are now being launched in hundreds at a time, resurrecting a dream of satellite constellations, i.e., wide, all-covering networks of small satellites capable of forming universal multifunctional, intelligent platforms for global communication, navigation, ubiquitous data mining, Earth observation, and many other functions, which was once doomed by the extraordinary cost of such systems. The ingression of novel nanostructured materials provided a solid base that enabled the advancement of these affordable systems in aspects of power, instrumentation, and communication. However, absence of efficient and reliable thrust systems with the capacity to support precise maneuvering of small satellites and CubeSats over long periods of deployment remains a real stumbling block both for the deployment of large satellite systems and for further exploration of deep space using a new generation of spacecraft. The last few years have seen tremendous global efforts to develop various miniaturized space thrusters, with great success stories. Yet, there are critical challenges that still face the space technology. These have been outlined at an inaugural International Workshop on Micropropulsion and Cubesats, MPCS-2017, a joint effort between Plasma Sources and Application Centre/Space Propulsion Centre (Singapore) and the Micropropulsion and Nanotechnology Lab, the G. Washington University (USA) devoted to miniaturized space propulsion systems, and hosted by CNR-Nanotec - P.Las.M.I. lab in Bari, Italy. This focused review aims to highlight the most promising developments reported at MPCS-2017 by leading world-reputed experts in miniaturized space propulsion systems. Recent advances in several major types of small thrusters including Hall thrusters, ion engines, helicon, and vacuum arc devices are presented, and trends and perspectives are outlined.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number011104
    JournalApplied Physics Reviews
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


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