Swiss EPFL lab develops cheap mini-motor to launch small satellites

by Staff Reporter | April 1st, 2012

EPFL Swiss Space Centre scientist Muriel Richard

Researchers at Switzerland’s Federal Polytechnic of Lausanne (EPFL) claim to have built a miniature rocket motor that could lower the price of satellite launches to one-tenth of today’s average costs.

Swiss scientists said the rocket was designed for small satellites, as the first prototype weighs just 200 grams and runs on an “ionic” liquid chemical compound rather than traditional fuel. The EPFL motor generates thrust through a process in which ions are extracted from the liquid compound and ejected through an electric field.

EPFL Swiss Space Centre scientist Muriel Richard said that a mini-satellite using the motor would have a cruising speed of about 42,000 kilometers-per-hour. “We calculated that in order to reach lunar orbit, a 1-kilogram Nano satellite with our motor would travel for about six months and consume 100 millilitres of fuel,” Richard said in a statement.

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