SteamJet Space Systems
Innovating with Steam
SteamJet, the first Westcott BIC incubatee, is developing a safer, compact and affordable water-based propulsion system for CubeSats and Small Satellites. The aim is to expand current mission capabilities, enabling satellites to stay in Space longer, change and optimise their orbit, avoid collisions, operate in constellations and de-orbit at the end of their mission.
Route to Impact
SteamJet develops and produces water-based thrusters for SmallSats/CubeSats using water or other low pressure, non-toxic, non-corrosive fluid as the propellant to form thrust in a low power resistojet. The major advantages of using water as the propellant are:
When compared to high-pressure cold gas thrusters, the SteamJet propulsion system is completely safe for launch site operations, or storage within the International Space Station. This reduces the overall mission risks.
The high thrust and low power consumption of SteamJet thrusters promote satellites to arrive at the final orbit sooner when compared to those using electric propulsion.
A networking event at the Catapult led to SteamJet becoming the first incubatee at the Catapult’s Westcott Business Incubation Centre (BIC). From here it was possible to focus on the CubeSat challenges SteamJet were aiming to resolve:
- CubeSats are launched as secondary payloads, without the possibility to optimise their final orbit.
- The limited lifespan, 1-2 years, for a CubeSat deployed from the ISS (International Space Station) before it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.
- CubeSats deployed at high altitude orbits (600-700 km) could violate ESA’s 25 years re-entry international guidelines.
“The greatest value-add during our year at the Catapult’s Westcott BIC includes the introductions to key personnel within the rocket propulsion community. Strengthening our knowledge of the sector and specific technologies, which has given us access to specialist innovation support. Furthermore, the BIC team helped us to identify and successfully apply for research grants from EDRF and UKSA”
Marco Pavan – Co-Founder & Director, SteamJet Space Systems
The propulsion system is smaller than 1U and exploits the ‘tuna can’ volume available on CubeSat deployers. Its unique shape allows for installation outside the main CubeSat structure. This is a major benefit for the final customer because it provides more space for the payload or other subsystems within the satellite.
This compact option provides a minimum overall dimension with maximum flexibility. The solid thruster design and efficient mass exhaustion increases reliability and decreases costs yet meets all CubeSat safety requirements.
- Cross-technology collaboration – SteamJet have collaborated with Total Carbide who now manufacture part of the SteamJet system. To date, we have two prototypes and 3D printing underway.
- Strong academic relationships – The SteamJet system, post manufacture tolerances, are tested at The University of Southampton where we have recently commenced a SPRINT project.
- Progressed a technology towards commercialisation – The specialist knowledge gained whilst at the Westcott BIC has created the foundations for our first technology demonstration mission.
- Application for a trademark – To protect SteamJet’s intellectual property, commenced during our year as a Westcott Incubatee.
- Increased employment – As the company continues to grow, we will seek to move from the current six employees to ten within the next couple of years.
A launch service agreement with Momentus, an in-space transportation company, is underway. This will be SteamJet’s first technology demonstration mission for a reliable, compact, and available water-based propulsion system. It will be launched from a Falcon9 rocket to a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). At the moment, we have signed up for 2020 and 2021 Vigoride flights. These flights are designed to remain in Low Earth Orbit for several months depending upon the customers’ missions.
In the future, SteamJet has ambitious plans to apply its proprietary rapid water-heating technology to a wide range of space propulsion products, not just to serve small satellites, but medium and big satellites as well, introducing a New Age of Steam in Space!