The CubeSat Ambipolar Thruster or CAT is a space project crowdfunding on Kickstarter now. They set a funding goal of raising $50,000 but they are well past that amount and stand at over $69,000 today.
The idea for the project is from Benjamin Longmier, Ph.D., at the University of Michigan where he is part of the Aerospace Engineering faculty. His vision is to develop an environment where we can access deep space at a very low cost. With this objective in mind his CAT project is a new rocket propulsion system. His team predicts that someday, using this technology, spacecraft will be able to get 1 Billion (yes billion) miles per gallon using water. Rockets generate thrust from burning fuel which creates a massive expansion of gas. Using a similar concept but by creating a super heated (350,000 degrees C) plasma stream to create thrust – their approach is much more efficient than rocket fuels used today. Well they are not quite there yet with the water so they are going to test first with xenon.
The CubeSat is a satellite which is about the size of a loaf a bread. Smaller does mean less expensive in this situation. As you may know most satellites today are pretty pricey. The CubeSat Longmier is talking about is 1000 to 10,000 times less expensive. So now you have his vision for inexpensive deep space exploration. Not quite the Enterprise but definitely a step in the right direction.
So why go the crowdfunding route to finance this vision? Well they do have some external funding for their project but by using Kickstarter they can compress the time frame for the project and take it from ideation to reality much quicker. By raising $50,o00 this will give the project sufficient funds to see their engine actually create the plasma and verify their assumptions.
Since their campaign has hit goal they have, of course ,announced their stretch goals. These are some pretty awesome goals too. Their top Stretch is for $7,000,000 and promises to launch ten CubeSats with networking capability thus establishing the first interplanetary internet and paving the way for total solar system domination. I want to see someone call them on this one.
There are plenty of rewards at modest levels for those of you just interested in advancing space exploration. There are ten days left in this crowdfunding campaign which is scheduled to close on December 10th.
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