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Can we explore space for $1 million ?

Posted on Tuesday, 9 July, 2013 | Comment icon 8 comments | News tip by: Waspie_Dwarf

Image credit: Ben Longmier

A tiny type of satellite and a new propulsion system could make cheap space exploration a reality.

CubeSats are small, cheap spacecraft that weigh only 5kg and that have so far remained restricted to orbit around the Earth. But through the development of a new miniature propulsion system known as the CubeSat Ambipolar Thruster (CAT), these tiny ships could soon be capable of flying missions to Jupiter and beyond for budgets not exceeding $1M.

A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to help raise enough funds to launch a test flight. Essentially a plasma engine, the CAT thruster is similar to NASA's Ion engine but on a much smaller scale. Using only 2.5kg of fuel, it should be possible to propel a CubeSat spacecraft to Europa or other high-interest targets within our solar system on a budget that is up to 1000 times less than that needed to send conventional interplanetary spacecraft.

"Researchers plan to launch a tiny spacecraft to Earth orbit and beyond within the next 18 months, in a key test of new propulsion technology that could help cut the cost of planetary exploration by a factor of 1,000."

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Dark_Grey on 8 July, 2013, 17:02
Awesome - I want to see NASA's ion propulsion engine make it's debute appearance
Comment icon #2 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 8 July, 2013, 17:50
You are a bit late for that. 49 years too late to be precise. , the NASA mission which was launched in September 2007, explored the asteroid Vesta between July 2011 and September 2012 and is currently on it's way to the dwarf planet Ceres uses a ion propulsion. It is NASA's first exploration mission to use ion propulsion. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) had previously launched space probes which used ion propulsion. JAXA's was launched to the asteroid 25143 Itokawa in May 2003, returning samples to the Earth in June 2010. E... [More]
Comment icon #3 Posted by Dark_Grey on 8 July, 2013, 19:18
Holy crap I had no idea it was being used from so far back! I was refering more to their recent claim of having an ion engine running problem-free for over 5 years in one of their labs. I never thought to look up if they had used that technology previously...
Comment icon #4 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 8 July, 2013, 19:36
You can't have read my reply to you in that thread then ( ). I must admit when I did a bit of research I was shocked at how old the idea was (1911) and when experiments started on it (1916-1917).
Comment icon #5 Posted by Dark_Grey on 8 July, 2013, 19:40
No, I didn't see that reply... It is quite shocking that the concept was around from the turn of the 19th century. Thanks for all the info - I will have to look into this further
Comment icon #6 Posted by shrooma on 9 July, 2013, 8:31
$1m to get to Europa?? it'd cost more than that in a taxi!! i hope they manage to pull it off.....
Comment icon #7 Posted by WoIverine on 9 July, 2013, 14:29
Agreed, that sounds really cool
Comment icon #8 Posted by highdesert50 on 9 July, 2013, 17:24
Going small could really encourage nano engineering and the potential to eventually explore on a grander scale perhaps using baseball sized craft that might be more easily accelerated to near light speeds.

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