NanoFET - Nanoparticle Field Extraction Thruster for Micro-Satellites and Defensive Counterspace

Period of Performance: 11/20/2008 - 11/20/2010


Phase 2 STTR

Recipient Firm

Electrodynamic Applications, Inc.
P.O. Box 131460
Ann Arbor, MI 48105
Principal Investigator
Firm POC

Research Institution

University of Michigan
3003 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Institution POC


The Nanoparticle Field Extraction Thruster (NanoFET) is being developed as a high thrust-to-power, highly compact, variable specific impulse electric propulsion device especially for micro-satellite applications. NanoFET provides thrust by extracting and charging nanometer to micron-sized conducting particles (e.g., spheres) fed from a dry reservoir and accelerating them electrostatically. This technique may allow important advantages in terms of storage and handling efficiency over gas or liquid propellant approaches. The particles are delivered from the reservoir spring force and piezoelectric vibrations. Charging and extraction is done using a multi-layer MEMS grid. By charging equal numbers of particles both positively and negatively, NanoFET can eliminate the need for a neutralizer. Highly efficient in terms of both power and system mass/volume, NanoFET could provide significant improvement over current propulsion options for key micro-satellite mission applications. Current design targets are tens of nanometer particles accelerated through tens of kilovolts. Prototype experiments have been conducted with 5-micron hollow aluminum spheres as an interim step. In addition to propulsion, the particle beam created by NanoFET provides capability for defensive counter-space applications including sensor coating and momentum transfer interactions with non-friendly spacecraft. Potential mission applications include deployable "Sentinel" sub-satellites that would provide mother-satellite inspection or proximate satellite interception. BENEFIT: The NanoFET propulsion system may find particular value in microsatellites attached to high value military assets. Small deployable spacecraft could thus provide mothercraft inspection, sentinel-like protection, plus other capabilities of value. The NanoFET propulsion system will also support other propulsion applications beyond military satellites. As a scalable technology, NanoFET could provide its variable thrust and Isp benefits to a wide range of civilian and research satellites in many size categories. In addition, the work being done to characterize the material impact of the NanoFET system in application to defensive counter space will benefit the development of versions of NanoFET for terrestrial applications. For example, in material processing it can be used to implant materials in accurately controlled quantities to specific depths and precise locations. We are presently working with UM to acquire funding to develop print applications through the MUCI university research grant program. Ultimately, we see potential for medical applications as well. EDA plans to develop and grow this technology into all of these areas.