Solid Teflon Propellant

Engineers at CUA have developed a patented Fiber-fed Pulsed Plasma Thruster (FPPT) which consumes PTFE propellant from a spooled form. The thruster uses massive parallelism in its energy storage unit (ESU) design, assembling COTS components into discrete modular capacitor assemblies while maintaining low per-cap specific current levels. Discharge initiation is accomplished via a regenerative carbon igniter array located in the thruster cathode. Thruster performance varies with fuel feed rate, with 16 J ESU configuration measured values ranging from 0.12 mN-s @ 1,000 s to 0.09 mN-s @ 1,700 s. Higher specific impulse of 2400 s was measured in a 32 J configuration. A 1U design provides up to 5,500 N-s total impulse while a 1.7U design provides up to 15,000 N-s total impulse.  Accelerated subsystem life testing demonstrated > 1.6 billion capacitor charge / discharge cycles with nearly identical specific current waveforms. FPPT utilizes the completely non-toxic solid propellant Teflon with benign exhaust, has no corrosive or propellant plugging issues, and has on-demand thrust with no warmup time requirement. Further, the ability to control both input power and propellant feed rate allows tuning from higher-Isp operation to higher-thrust operation. CUA believes that the FPPT technology is a compelling option to meet many micropropulsion needs including deep-space missions.

Advantages include:

  • Simplicity and safety with solid inert Teflon propellant

  • Low-cost propulsion option

  • Propellant is spooled inside package and easily expanded as needed

  • No pressure vessel required for propellant

  • Compact package size as small as 1U

  • Well-suited for 6U or larger CubeSats

Propellant Options: Teflon fiber (range safety not required)

Status: Available as 1.7U dual fault tolerant unit w/ < 9-month lead time

Variations: Alternate form factors available w/ additional cost and lead time

FPPT is being integrated for flight on CUA’s NASA-funded Dual Propulsion Experiment (DUPLEX) CubeSat, presently scheduled for launch in mid-2022

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Related Publications
R. L. Burton, C. A. Woodruff, D. M. King, and D. L. Carroll, Analysis of Fiber-Fed Pulsed Plasma Thruster Performance 22 Oct. 2020, Journal of Propulsion and Power, vol 20, numb 20, 88-90, 92, DOI 1.B38114, (2020)
C. A. Woodruff, D. M. King, R. L. Burton, and D. L. Carroll, Fiber-fed Pulsed Plasma Thruster (FPPT) for Small Satellites 15 Sep. 2019, IEPC, Sep 2019, Vienna, Austria, September 15-20, 2019, No. 899, pp. 1-12, DOI n/a, (2019)
C. Woodruff, D. King, R. Burton, J. Bowman, and D. L. Carroll, Development of a Fiber-Fed Pulsed Plasma Thruster for Small Satellites 04 Aug. 2019, Small Satellite Conference, Logan, UT, Aug 4, 2019, DOI n/a, (2019)