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Tethers Unlimited scores big with mini-thrusters

Tethers Unlimited Inc.’s Hydros thruster fires during a test. (Credit: TUI)
Tethers Unlimited Inc.’s Hydros thruster fires during a test. (Credit: TUI)

Tethers Unlimited Inc. says it’s won $2.2 million in contracts from NASA and Millennium Space Systems to provide its miniaturized, water-fueled Hydros thrusters for satellite missions.

The company, based in Bothell, Wash., is developing the Hydros as a safe-to-launch propulsion system for CubeSats and other small satellites. The thrusters measure about 4 inches wide. They run on hydrogen and oxygen, which can be produced in space by splitting water molecules (H2O) using solar-powered electrolysis.

Hydrogen and oxygen gases are burned in the thrusters to propel satellites during maneuvers. The propulsion method is similar to the principle that’s been used for the space shuttle main engines and Blue Origin’s BE-3 rocket engine, but on a much smaller scale.

Tethers Unlimited says the water-electrolysis method makes it possible for tiny satellites to carry a fuel source that’s non-explosive, non-toxic and unpressurized.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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