Stamp-size thrusters could propel small satellites into space

This prototype microthruster from MIT is about the size of a Lego brick.

(Credit: Bryce Vickmark/MIT)

Remember that Lego spaceship you once built? What if it could have a working thruster the size and weight of a Lego brick?

MIT professor Paulo Lozano is designing prototype “microthrusters” that would propel pint-size satellites in orbit and into deep space.

The director of MIT’s Space Propulsion Laboratory believes such microthrusters and the scaled-down satellites they would power could radically reduce the cost of space missions compared with conventional spacecraft technology.

So-called CubeSat satellites are roughly the size of a Rubik’s Cube. Dozens of CubeSats have been put into orbit over the past decade, often as part of university research projects.

But instead of letting them burn up in Earth’s atmosphere as their orbits decay, Lozano wants to equip them with tiny thrusters to prolong their usefulness — and give them new functionality.

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