Water Plasma Propulsion tested successfully in Space
A company called Momentus is using water as fuel to maneuver satellites
This is yet another glaring example of the innovative spirit of Silicon Valley. The startup has been successfully testing the novel idea on its El Camino Real spacecraft — launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket in July 2019. Momentus will continue to perform simulations on its spacecraft for the next few months to gather enough data to compare it with the results of the ground tests to validate the proper functioning of the new system.
It’s spacecraft, El Camino Real, is a 16-unit CubeSat integrated by Astro Digital — a spacecraft manufacturer and geospatial data analysis company based out of California as well. Momentus has already secured funding of $34 million funding to develop two shuttles, Vigoride and Vigoride Extended, which will maneuver satellites between orbits.
The most prominent application for this is when new satellites are deployed in orbits via rockets. When the former is dropped off in orbits, they can be moved to optimal positions using this technology in a cheap & efficient manner. Momentus originally started off in 2018 as a transportation service for small satellites seeking rides to medium Earth, geostationary or low lunar orbit.
“The on-orbit testing has demonstrated for the first time that microwave electrothermal plasma technology has the potential to achieve high specific impulse using water propellant. Water plasma propulsion is now technologically mature enough to be baselined for operational in-space transportation missions.” ~ Momentus CEO Mikhail Kokorich
El Camino Real uses microwaves to heat water to super-high temperatures, which eventually powers its electrothermal thruster to move between different orbits. The system has proved to be highly resilient even in the test cases where water froze throughout the craft’s propulsion lines. All the equipment continued to function normally.
The team expects the future missions to be powered by water gathered from nearby asteroids and planets, thus providing easy refueling capabilities. For now, the startup is focused on starting the Vigoride service using our first in-space rocket in 2020 followed by the testing of next-gen Ardoride engines in simulated environments.