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High Temperature Ionic Liquids for Electrospray Propulsion



Prime contractor
Organisational Unit
12 October 2023

Duration: 18 months


To date, around 340 picosatellites have been launched into Space. Particularly, the pocketqube class launches are experiencing an unprecedented growth; around 70 were launched in 2022 [1]. This increasing trend is motivated by the extremely low cost of manufacturing and launching these satellites, which, together with the miniaturization of multiple technologies, has become an attractive business opportunity for several IoT companies [2-3], as the main business model. However, these small satellites are lacking one of the most critical enabling and regulatory technologies: adequate on-board propulsion solutions. The extremely limited volume, mass, and power available in these platforms presents a large challenge for propulsion providers.

Nevertheless, there is a potentially fitting technology due to its miniaturized nature: electrospray propulsion, which is based on the extraction and acceleration of charged particles from an ionic liquid. These propellants have multiple advantages: they do not require large pressurization, have negligible vapor pressure, are nontoxic, and do not have dependency issues related to the supply chain. The ionic liquids referenced in the electrospray literature are room temperature ionic liquids (RTIL). This implies that fluidic systems are needed to ensure liquid management. Commercially available valves are either not optimized for this specific application or, toghether with other elements, occupy a significant amount of volume. However another class of ionic liquids exists with higher melting points (50-100℃), which we will refer to as high temperature ionic liquids (HTIL), which will potentially not require actuated fluidic systems during launch or operation.

The Proposal of this OSIP is to explore these HTIL for electrospray propulsion, which are solid state at room temperature. A premilinary ignition test has been performed, showing promissing results, but additional research effort must be undertaken to assess their feasibility.

Contract number
OSIP Idea Id
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Open Channel
Main application area
Generic for multiple space applications
High Temperature Ionic Liquids for Electrospray Propulsion