On the capabilities of nano electrokinetic thrusters for space propulsion

F. J. Diez, G. Hernaiz, J. J. Miranda, M. Sureda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


A theoretical analysis considering the capabilities of nano electrokinetic thrusters for space propulsion is presented. The work describes an electro-hydro-dynamic model of the electrokinetic flow in nano-channels and represents the first attempt to exploit the advantages of the electrokinetic effect as the basis for a new class of nano-scale thrusters suitable for space propulsion. Among such advantages are their small volume, fundamental simplicity, overall low mass, and actuation ef.ciency. Their electrokinetic efficiency is affected by the slip length, surface charge, pH and molarity. These design variables are analyzed and optimized for the highest electrokinetic performance inside nano-channels. The optimization is done for power consumption, thrust and specific impulse resulting in high theoretical efficiency ∼99% with corresponding high thrust-to-power ratios. Performance curves are obtained for the electrokinetic design variables showing that high molarity electrolytes lead to high thrust and specific impulse values, whereas low molarities provide highest thrust-to-power ratios and efficiencies. A theoretically designed 100 nm wide by 1 μm long emitter optimized using the ideal performance charts developed would deliver thrusts from 5 to 43 μN, specific impulse from 60 to 210 s, and would have power consumption between 1-15 mW. It should be noted that although this is a detail analytical analysis no prototypes exist and any future experimental work will face challenges that could affect the final performance. By designing an array composed of thousands of these single electrokinetic emitters, it would result in a .exible and scalable propulsion system capable of providing a wide range of thrust control for different mission scenarios and maintaining very high efficiencies and thrust-to-power ratio by varying the number of emitters in use at any one time. & 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-107
Number of pages11
JournalActa Astronautica
StatePublished - 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aerospace Engineering


  • Nano thrusters
  • Space propulsion

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'On the capabilities of nano electrokinetic thrusters for space propulsion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this