PhD Studentship: A porous micro-electrospray propulsion system for cubesats.

United Kingdom
Apr 04, 2017
Apr 03, 2018
Organization Type
University and College
Full Time
PhD Studentship: A porous micro-electrospray propulsion system for cubesats.

Engineering & the Environment

Location: Highfield Campus

Closing Date:  Tuesday 03 April 2018

Reference: 858417F2

Project Reference: CDT-SIS-295

Cubesat satellites offer a quickly implemented, relatively inexpensive opportunity to access Earth orbit. The small size of cubesats results though in several limitations, leading to less capability. One such limitation is a lack of a propulsion system that is capable of fitting within the constraints of a cubesat. As a result currently very few cubesats have been launched with a propulsion system, reducing their ability to for example change orbit from their original insertion orbit or to complete post-mission disposal requirements.

One type of propulsion system that can be designed to fit within the constraints of a cubesat is an electrospray thruster. Electrospray thrusters are a form of electric propulsion, but unlike other forms of electric propulsion (Hall Effect thrusters and gridded ion thrusters for example) it is scalable to the 10×10×10 cm3 volume of a 1 unit cubesat. Electrospray thrusters operate by the extraction of charged droplets from a liquid propellant by the application of a voltage. They offer the high performance (specific impulse) of an electric propulsion system whilst have power requirements within cubesats constraints (< ten Watts).

The project plans to develop a low cost and simple electrospray thruster suitable for cubesats. By the application of standard and well developed manufacturing processes to a porous substrate small needle like structures can be manufactured at a fraction of the cost of other techniques, for example MEMS based methods. These needles can then act as the emission sites of the charged droplets. An example of a prototype thruster is illustrated in Figure 1, along with a confocal microscopy scan of the needles (linear prisms in this case).

Figure 1. Prototype of low cost electrospray thruster. Left image illustrates CAD design (approximately 40 by 40 mm), right image shows a confocal microscopy scan of the emitters (in this case linear prisms) demonstrating the good accuracy of the low cost manufacturing process.

The project will consist of the design, manufacture and testing of a low cost micro-electrospray thruster system suitable for cubesats. It will be manufactured from a porous substrate and be packaged to fit within a half unit of a cubesat. It will be tested within the vacuum chamber facilities available at Southampton, with the performance measured using direct and indirect thrust measurements. The overall outcome of the PhD project is hoped to be a fully developed low cost electrospray thruster suitable for cubesats.

If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact Dr Charlie Ryan, Astronautics, Email:, Tel: +44 (0) 2380 59 3881.

This project is being run in participation with the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Infrastructure Systems ( For details of our 4 Year PhD programme and further projects, please see

To apply, please use the following website:

Further details:

  • Job Description and Person Specification