The PTD-1 spacecraft marks the first in-orbit demonstration of a water electrolysis propulsion system and launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Sunday, January 24, 2021.
The PTD-1 spacecraft is the first of a series of NASA technology demonstration missions that will test the operation of a variety of novel CubeSat subsystems in low-Earth orbit, including Tethers’ HYDROS® Propulsion System. Demonstration of these technologies will benefit future government and commercial missions and improve the performance of these small, versatile, and effective spacecraft. The demonstration will test propulsion performance through programmed thrust events that result in changes to PTD-1’s velocity and altitude.
“I am incredibly excited for the flight of the HYDROS thruster on NASA’s PTD-1 mission,” said Dr. Rob Hoyt, TUI’s President. “Our team has worked steadfastly to prepare the HYDROS-C® thruster for this mission, and I am so proud of their dedication. This mission will be the first flight demonstration of a revolutionary water-electrolysis-based propulsion technology, which will enable spacecraft to perform missions requiring both orbit agility and orbit persistence while using a propellant that is inherently safe, inexpensive, and readily available—both here on Earth, as well as throughout the solar system.”
HYDROS is a complete propulsion solution integrating thruster, tank, and controller and supporting easy “bolt-on” integration with a spacecraft bus. HYDROS uses water—which is storable at low pressures, non-toxic, inexpensive, and safe for both personnel and launch vehicles—as the propellant. Once in orbit, HYDROS uses an electrolysis system designed for zero-G operation to split the water into its constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen, which the system then combusts through a rocket nozzle to produce thrust. HYDROS provides higher thrust efficiencies while requiring lower power input than electric propulsion technologies and provides higher specific impulse than monopropellant chemical propulsion. TUI is now working to upgrade future HYDROS systems to enable on-orbit refueling to support advanced space missions.
NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the PTD series of missions that includes PTD-1. NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland collaborates as the propulsion system payload lead on the PTD-1 mission. The mission launches as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites 35, provided by the CubeSat Launch Initiative, which is managed by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The PTD mission series is managed and funded by the Small Spacecraft Technology program within the NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.