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CubeSats are small, but so are some propulsion systems (cold gas thrusters, for instance, really aren't too complex and can be low volume/mass). Has any CubeSat actually flown with its own propulsion system? If so, what were the results?

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  • $\begingroup$ I can find quite a few sellers offering them, so it's not unlikely that at least one has. $\endgroup$ – Undo Aug 2 '13 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ Undo is right, there are plenty of systems available. Even hydrazine engines (in the range of 1kg, for 2U/3U cubesats), which I find rather amazing. Besides, there are some tiny gas thruster systems from Germany, which could be implemented into a 1U cubesat. I am looking for results from tests in space myself - it could be worth it to contact the developers / sellers one by one and ask for customers ... $\endgroup$ – s-m-e Aug 4 '13 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ In this industry there are lots of products "available".... Many fewer actually have flight heritage. I'm not saying none of these do, but I'm curious about exactly what has flown and when. $\endgroup$ – user29 Aug 4 '13 at 21:51
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After days of Googling this, I am going to say that it appears none have. It's worth noting that there are dozens of propulsion systems for cubesats (Google 'cubesat propulsion'), but I was able to turn up nothing referencing any that have actually flown.

One would think that if the systems had been used, be it privately or by a university, a result for an article, a paper, something would have surfaced.

I'll continue looking for evidence, but until someone finds it, the answer is 'no, not to the best of our knowledge.'

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    $\begingroup$ +1 and I expect the downvoter to provide an answer, proving @Undo wrong, or otherwise explain it. I've been trying to find any trace of active propulsion systems being previously used on orbited CubeSats as well (that's the gist of the question), and haven't been able to find any. That there are plenty of such systems to buy doesn't really surprise me, as they wouldn't be much different to those used by modelers. And with only two options for the answer, either yes or a no, the lack of evidence to support one of them by deductive reasoning means that the answer must be the other one. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Aug 13 '13 at 5:27
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    $\begingroup$ @TildalWave Absence of evidence is only evidence of absence according to the thoroughness of the search for evidence. Undo seems to have done an extensive search (and the publication argument is strong), so the confidence of the assertion should be high but perhaps "only" 95% or 99%. The possibility of military or industrial secrecy is the only form of systematic error that comes to mind. (This is largely a knee-jerk reaction to "absence of evidence" arguments.) $\endgroup$ – Paul A. Clayton Aug 13 '13 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ @PaulA.Clayton - Yes, of course. I'm sorry to have caused a knee-jerk reaction by being blunt LOL, but the comments are limited in length and I couldn't think of a more concise version to relay my thoughts in a single one of them at the time. But Undo already specifies limits in his answer by concluding with "not to the best of our knowledge", and I was referring to his answer as a whole. Of course, there are chances (I wouldn't want to speculate on the numbers tho) that we simply don't and likely won't know. But as far as current public knowledge goes, his answer is IMHO indeed correct. ;) $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Aug 13 '13 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. This is a somewhat surprising result to me. I plan on doing a bit more searching myself, after which I'll accept this as correct. $\endgroup$ – user29 Aug 14 '13 at 0:20
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    $\begingroup$ Well, here's proof that as of the publication date of this paper (2010), no cubesats had flown with propulsion. And I found no proof that any have in the mean time. $\endgroup$ – user29 Aug 16 '13 at 15:15
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Yes, we know of a least one CubeSat that has flown (and is currently flying) with an active propulsion system. Specifically a steam powered warp drive.

enter image description here

STRaND-1 (Surrey Training, Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator 1) was launched aboard PSLV-C20 on February 25, 2013. Developed jointly by the Surrey Space Laboratory and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, STRaND-1 and was the first CubeSat developed in the UK.

Apart from being the first smartphone based satellite in space it also carried a system of pulsed plasma thrusters for attitude control and a Water Alchohol Resistojet Propulsion system (WARP DRiVE, their name, not mine) for orbital maintenance and decommissioning.

Resistojets work by electrically heating a fluid (in this case a water-alcohol mix) to create high pressure gas (in this case mostly steam) that is then vented through a conventional nozzle to provide thrust. Hence: Steam powered WARP DRiVE.

As for the results, see for yourself.

Whether it was the first CubeSat propulsion system to fly I'm not sure, but it certainly has the best name of any I've heard of.


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  • $\begingroup$ Love the name! I can see for myself that it is up there - are there any results on either the plasma thrusters or Warp Drive that we can read about? With such a high orbit, the Warp drive isn't needed to maintain orbit - oh, possibly it's not installed on this one? Where can we read more? :) $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 7 '16 at 16:59
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The Aerospace Corporation flew a cold gas (xenon) thruster on the MEPSI mission in 2006. It thrusted as expected. MEPSI was a 4" x 4" 5" spacecraft, so it wasn't a quite a CubeSat.

Aerospace will fly a steam thruster on their AeroCube OSSD-B&C missions early next year.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Space Exploration SE! Thank you for this post, I'm adding a link and upvoting. Please remember to add references to your future posts. $\endgroup$ – Deer Hunter Aug 4 '15 at 6:28
  • $\begingroup$ That's quite an exciting project - the document in the link says: "A single pathfinder satellite will be launched in October 2015, followed by a pair of Block-II satellites in 2016." What is the current status? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 7 '16 at 16:48

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