MCF > Integration and Test > Subsystem Testing >

Propulsion

Scope and Description

This topic page covers testing of smallsat propulsion subsystems. Propulsion systems for smallsats are extremely diverse, from chemical systems that burn monopropellant fuel to electric propulsion systems that generate and accelerate ions using electromagnetic fields. Therefore, testing of these systems is similarly diverse, with levels of thrust, environments required for operation, and potential failure modes that dictate unique test procedures and equipment.

Resources under this topic area are primarily articles and whitepapers describing testing of smallsat propulsion systems. Note that more general but relevant resources regarding electronics testing are available in topic pages immediately under "Integration and Test" in this knowledge base.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Last Updated:

Nov. 1, 2021

For systems with pressurized fluid, launch providers typically require testing to ensure that pressure vessel burst or leakage of volatile chemicals will not occur during launch and deployment.

Resources

Last Updated: Oct. 14, 2021

This standard provides environmental and structural ground testing requirements for space hardware. This ... is a very comprehensive and traditional requirements document not appropriate for determining requirements for most smallsat projects; however, it provides definitions, baseline requirements, and specific methodologies for each type of test and can serve as a valuable reference to inform smallsat testing. This section titled "Unit Leakage Test" covers "tests that demonstrate the capability of pressurized subsystems to meet the specified flow, pressure, and leakage requirements."

This review on propulsion systems for CubeSats discusses the most promising developments in propulsion ... system technology. It provides details on traditional Hall thrusters, miniaturized thrusters, and hollow cathode neutralizers for micropropulsion. Chapter 4 of the review discusses test equipment and systems used for testing the smallsat propulsion systems.

Last Updated: Oct. 14, 2021

This standard provides environmental and structural ground testing requirements for space hardware. This ... is a very comprehensive and traditional requirements document not appropriate for determining requirements for most smallsat projects; however, it provides definitions, baseline requirements, and specific methodologies for each type of test and can serve as a valuable reference to inform smallsat testing. This section titled "Unit Pressure Test" covers pressuring testing that "demonstrates adequate margin, so that structural failure does not occur before the design burst pressure is reached, or excessive deformation does not occur at the maximum expected operating pressure."

Last Updated: Nov. 11, 2021

This resource specifically discusses the electrolysis propulsion technique used in CubeSats and the pros ... and cons associated with this propulsion subsystem. Section II gives a system overview of the electrolysis propulsion technology, and Section IV discusses the performance and validation tests of an electrolysis propulsion system.

The journal paper discusses the design, development, integration, and testing of the cold gas propulsion ... system that was developed for the Adelis-SAMSON cubesat mission.

Last Updated: Oct. 18, 2021

This article provides details on the test plan and test results of the VACCO green monopropellant integrated ... propulsion system (IPS). This highly reliable and tested propulsion system has been used on multiple cubesat sizes and on a variety of missions including LEO, MEO, GEO, cislunar, interplanetary, and interstellar missions. Pages 3 to 6 identify four phases of the test plan to validate the IPS flight hardware including thruster acceptance, protoflight, burst, and FlatSat testing.

Hall Effect Thruster Ground Testing Challenges

Article
William A. Hargus et al.

Last Updated: Oct. 18, 2021

Hall effect thrusters use a magnetic field to produce the electric field required to ionize propellant. ... This document details the challenges associated with testing these plasma propulsion systems on the ground in simulated space environments. Section II outlines the strategies for testing the performance, lifetime, electromagnetic interference (EMI), common plume measurements, and exotic measurements of Hall effect thrusters.

Last Updated: Oct. 18, 2021

This journal paper discusses the endurance test performed on a field emission electric propulsion (FEEP) ... thruster in a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. The test procedures, goals, and test parameters are thoroughly discussed along with results from the first set of data points. FEEP thrusters offer very low thrust capabilities but ultra-fine modulation capability with high accuracy.

Last Updated: Oct. 18, 2021

This handbook provides in-depth guidance on testing of space vehicles. This is a dated but comprehensive ... source of space hardware test environments and processes that could be used to inform test planning and execution for smallsat projects. This section covers flow, pressure, and leakage testing of fluid systems on space vehicles.