Wes Faler is building a small satellite called Fluid & Reason Engine Test Satellite 1 or FRETS1.
FRETS1 is a TubeSat-style picosatellite that aims to fly in 2013 on an Interorbital Systems Neptune rocket into a 310 km sun synchronous orbit. Its mission is to test a new kind of ion engine, one designed for higher thrust and lower power than traditional designs.
It’s planned to use a closed cell foam filled with pressurized nitrogen, vaporizing the supporting plastic and releasing the enclosed nitrogen using a spark system similar to that used by Pulsed Plasma Thrusters (PPTs). PPTs create an arc across the face of a solid Teflon bar, turning a few micrograms of Teflon into plasma. The plasma moves along the PPT’s cathode and anode by Lorentz forces, much the same way that a rail gun accelerates its conducting projectile.
This video gives a brief overview of what a TubeSat is.
Watch SatTV Technology Update – TubeSat
Note it is understood the first launches will take place in California rather than the site mentioned in the video.
Building An Ion Engine http://www.science20.com/satellite_diaries/building_ion_engine-81149
FRETS1 TubeSat http://frets1.wordpress.com/
Interorbital Systems http://www.interorbital.com/