NASA SBIR 2003 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER:03-A5.02-8171 (For NASA Use Only - Chron: 034834)
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Nanotechnology
PROPOSAL TITLE:Carbon Nanotube Based Electric Propulsion Thruster with Low Power Consumption

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Applied Nanotechnologies, Inc.
308 W. Rosemary Street
Chapel Hill ,NC 27516 - 2548
(919) 928 - 8009

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Changkun   Dong
308 W. Rosemary Street
Chapel Hill ,NC  27516 -2548
(919) 928 - 8009
U.S. Citizen or Legal Resident: Yes

This SBIR project is to develop field emission electric propulsion (FEEP) thruster using carbon nanotubes (CNT) integrated anode. FEEP thrusters have gained considerable attention for spacecrafts disturbance compensation because of excellent characteristics. The application of current FEEP has been slow in developing mainly caused by high specific power, which limit the milli-Newton thruster development due to insufficient onboard power. Dramatic field improvement from nanometer CNTs is a big advantage to increase the FEEP thrust more than 10 times under constant specific impulse (power). The CNT based FEEP thruster with low specific power and stable long-term operation will meet spacecraft needs with micronewton to millinewton thrust capability. The new FEEP device will be constructed innovative in three aspects: (a) Integration of CNTs into the ion emission anode, (b) Structural combination from the metal tip emitter and the slit emitter, and (c) Selectable operating thrust units. In addition, a solid state thruster based on Cs intercalation with CNTs will also be investigated. The power consumption of the thruster will be reduced by a factor of 5 and more. The CNT ion emission design may also lead to the development of miniature ion source, benefiting ion source based analytical and material processing facilities.

Major applications of field emission electric propulsion (FEEP) thrusters are spacecraft attitude control and constellations, such as stationkeeping, orbit repositioning, and orbital adjusting. After Phase II work, the new thruster using carbon nanotube emitters will be able to reduce the specific power to 100 iN/W and produce micro to milli Newton thrust. These features will enable to extend the new field emission thruster to space propulsion fields with high thrust requirements, which are unreachable for current FEEP thruster due to micronewton thrust capability. Another application in NASA is to eliminating electrostatic charge accumulation for spacecraft exploring planetary plasma environments.

Liquid metal ion sources are widely used in several technical fields, like material modification by ion sputtering, ion current lithography in microfabrication, and material surface and depth structure analysis by Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS). The success of this project will enable the generation of higher ion current density with better focus and low power consumption, which can improve the resolution for material modification and ion current lithography and increase SIMS analysis accuracy and range. The new technique will also enable to develop miniaturized ion sources, leading to the performance improvement of ion source based facilities.