Radio Hams Kickstarter Plasma Thruster CubeSat

Artists impression of the CubeSat Ambipolar Thruster (CAT) satellite

Artists impression of the CubeSat Ambipolar Thruster (CAT) satellite

Radio amateurs Benjamin Longmier KF5KMP and James Cutler KF6RFX of the University of Michigan hope to raise $200,000 on Kickstarter for a CubeSat propulsion project.

The CubeSat Ambipolar Thruster (CAT) is a new plasma propulsion system which will push small spacecraft like CubeSats around in orbit or far beyond the Earth. They aim to use the CAT plasma thruster to propel a 5kg satellite into deep space at 1/1000th the cost of previous missions.

Just like a normal rocket that produces thrust from the burning and expansion of hot gases, CAT produces thrust from the expansion of a super-heated 350,000 °C plasma stream. Plasma is an ionized gas that can be accelerated to produce thrust (F=ma).  The force generated by this thruster will be very low (milli-newtons) but very efficient.  The engine will be turned on for long durations, accelerating the spacecraft to much higher velocities than a typical chemical rocket.

First, the propellant will be injected from its storage container into the plasma discharge chamber, a quartz bottle that distributes the gas and contains the plasma. The gas is turned into a plasma by a radio frequency antenna that surrounds the chamber and launches a plasma wave known as a “helicon.” The plasma is then launched out of the quartz bottle and guided by magnetic fields from extremely powerful permanent magnets. As the plasma escapes the CAT engine, this causes an equal and opposite thrust, pushing the satellite in the opposite direction. Unlike conventional rockets, almost any substance can be used as propellant for CAT – even liquid metals or water vapor!

Find out more about the project and watch the video on the Kickstarter site.

Kickstarter – CAT: A Thruster for Interplanetary CubeSats


Plasma Rockets & Solar Storms

Testing Plasma Rocket ComponentsThis Cosmic Journeys video covers the work of Dr. Ben Longmier KF5KMP and his University of Michigan team in developing plasma rockets.

Dr. Ben Longmier and his team from the University of Michigan have traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska to play a small part in a much larger push to revolutionize space travel and exploration.

The team plans to use helium balloons to send components of a new type of rocket engine to an altitude of over 30 kilometers, above 99% of Earth’s atmosphere. The purpose is to test these components within the harsh environment of space. While astronauts train to live and work in zero gravity, or to move around in bulky space suits, these would-be space explorers are preparing to negotiate some of Earth’s harshest environments.

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Satellites in a box – Radio Aurora Explorer Video

In this video radio amateur Professor Jamie Cutler KF6RFX highlights the ability of CubeSats to test new technology in space at low cost.

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Radio Amateurs aim to fly new FPGA in space

Radio amateurs James Cutler KF6RFX, Andrew Mitchell KD8RCO and K. Scott Tripp KD8IPK are involved in developing the Michigan Multipurpose Minisatellite (MCubed-2) at the University of Michigan.

The mission objectives for the MCubed-2 are to capture mid-resolution images of the Earth from Low Earth Orbit, perform a technology demonstration for a novel new Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), and train the next generation of Aerospace Engineers.

Testing the FPGA on a CubeSat platform will provide valuable information as to how it survives Low Earth Orbit and how well it operates when processing real image data.

M-Cubed implements a 3 mega-pixel CMOS camera that will transfer the image to the FPGA upon request. MCubed-2 is also an educational project for Engineering students at the University of Michigan. M-Cubed provides hands-on experience for students who would not otherwise have the opportunity to build flight hardware for a space mission.

The training these students gain by working on this project will better prepare them for work in the Aerospace industry. MCubed-2 is a 1U CubeSat and the group is proposing to use a 1 watt output simplex transceiver on UHF with 9k6 telemetry.

It is planned to launch from Vandenberg into a 770 km by 460 km 123 degree orbit with these spacecraft: Medgar Evers – CUNYSat-1 Cal Poly – IPEX: MSU – Firebird: UH – H-2: Kentucky Space – KySat-2: SLU – Argus: LLNL – Udjat: SMDC – TacSat-6, SNaP-1/2/3, SMDC ONE 2.3/2.4 Aerospace Corp. – AeroCube-5a/5b/6 AFIT – ALICE: GSFC/Siena College – Firefly: USC – MaVEx: USU – STACEM:

More information is available at

The MCubed-2 IARU frequency application is