Accion Systems founder and CEO is Natalya Brikner, a Ph.D. student at MIT. Credit: MIT Sloan School of Management

Accion Systems founder and CEO is Natalya Brikner, a Ph.D. student at MIT.
Credit: MIT Sloan School of Management

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a constant hotbed of creativity and cultivation central for startup companies.

One such firm that’s attracting attention is Accion Systems, developing liquid ion sources for micro-propulsion systems in satellites.

The target for Accion propulsion is to keep ultra-small satellites – CubeSats — in orbit for far-longer periods of time.

Accion Systems founder and CEO is Natalya Brikner, a Ph.D. student at MIT.

The company’s MAX-1 propulsion module churns out over 100 micro-newtons of thrust.

Tiny and scalable electric propulsion systems. Credit: Accion Systems

Tiny and scalable electric propulsion systems.
Credit: Accion Systems

Time for a change

Speaking at the MIT Sloan Women in Management (SWIM) Conference earlier this year, Brikner said:

“The engines that are flying on satellites today were designed before the first handheld calculator was invented,” Brikner said, according to a MITSloan School of Management news statement.

It’s time for a change and the key is scalable electric propulsion systems, Brikner said.

Accion’s systems would cost $1 million, compared to $15 million for current systems, and would significantly increase the life and operability of small satellites, Brikner said.

"Tipping" the scales of propulsion. Credit: Accion Systems

“Tipping” the scales of propulsion.
Credit: Accion Systems

Molten salt

According to Accion Systems: Need more thrust? Arrange more tiles next to one another. Need thrust in a different direction? Put tiles anywhere on the satellite.

Bolt-on modules simplify and shorten satellite development and integration.

The propellant used is an ionic liquid, a molten salt at room temperature. A high voltage is applied between a sharp tip that has ionic liquid on it and an extractor aperture positioned directly above.

The tip intensifies the electric field, the liquid rises up to a point which further intensifies the field strength, and ions are extracted from the propellant surface. The ions accelerate through the upstream extraction aperture, exiting the spacecraft and providing thrust.

The thrust level scales with the number of tips, so hundreds, thousands, or even millions of tips can be used to achieve the desired thrust level.

The target for Accion propulsion is to keep ultra-small satellites – CubeSats -- in orbit for far-longer periods of time. Credit: Accion Systems

The target for Accion propulsion is to keep ultra-small satellites – CubeSats — in orbit for far-longer periods of time.
Credit: Accion Systems

MEMs

Compactness is achieved through the use of Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems, or MEMS, fabrication techniques – similar to those used in the fabrication of microchip components. ​

“Our systems are lighter, smaller, and more efficient than existing systems and our product line is infinite…customers can put thrusters anywhere they want on a satellite,” Brikner adds. “Advances in integrated circuits and semiconductors have allowed small satellites the size of softballs to carry advanced communications, but currently there are no propulsion systems available to them.”

“We want to change that,” Brikner concludes.

For a video short course, Brikner describes the concept during the 2014 MIT Sloan Women in Management (SWIM) Conference.

Go to:

http://mitsloan.mit.edu/newsroom/2014-swim-pitch-competition.php

For more information on Accion Systems, go to:

http://www.accion-systems.com/

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