MicroThrust is a European consortium within the European Commission Framework Programme 7 (FP7) targeting advanced in-space propulsion technologies for solar system exploration. The consortium aims to develop a key component in facilitating exploration missions: a technology that can substantially reduce the cost of an Earth observation missions . Building on the framework of a successful ESA study, the Microthrust team of leading academics, research institutions and space companies has developed a conceptual design of a very small, yet highly performant electrical propulsion system (please see the technology section). The propulsion system will permit new exploration mission concepts. These missions due to their size will be developed within a fraction of the time for conventional missions. Their simplicity, perhaps even single instrument spacecraft, will reduce risk for carrying out the mission. Overall this will dramatically reduce cost of individual missions, thus providing more flight opportunities for planetary scientists and planetary exploration.
In order to allow a quick development of a flight capable prototype, this project will demonstrate a complete system in a laboratory environment and with that reach technology readiness level (TRL) 5, including miniaturized HV power supply, MEMS ion emitters, microfluidics for propellant handling, packaging, a novel neutralizer approach, and detailed mission analysis and experimentally validated operating points.
The team composed of partners from academia, research institution, SME and Industry from different European countries will allow a full European development and recurrent production of the technology, thus generating European independence.