Startup raises small spacecraft's orbit by 1.86 miles using water propulsion

Momentus Space CCO Chris Kinman said the system provides "higher efficiency" and "higher thrust" than traditional space tugs.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of Vigoride-5.
An artist's impression of Vigoride-5.

Momentus Space / Twitter 

California-based startup Momentus Space successfully lifted the orbit of its Vigoride-5 spacecraft by thousands of feet using a combination of solar power, microwaves, and water, a press statement reveals.

The company's Microwave Electrothermal Thruster (MET), which raised the craft's orbit, uses distilled water as a propellant. It is one of several systems tested in space recently that uses water to propel itself through space.

Water propulsion system raises orbit by 1.86 miles

During a recent demonstration, Momentus explained in its statement on May 8 that its MET system had lifted its Vigoride-5 orbital transfer vehicle more than 1.86 miles (3 kilometers).

The company, founded by Russian entrepreneur Mikhail Kokorich, aims to provide commercial space tug services that lift satellites to their intended orbits once they are deployed in space by rockets or other means.

"This initial orbital raise was a key goal of our Vigoride-5 mission, and the MET’s performance has exceeded our expectations,” Momentus Chief Technology Officer Rob Schwarz explained in the statement. "Each ignition has been successful, and we’ve completed more than 35 firings ranging from 30 seconds up to six minutes in duration, which is what we plan to use operationally. Cumulatively, we have accomplished over 140 minutes of firing time of the MET system."

Now that the MET system worked as intended during its latest demonstration, Momentus aims to use it "to support commercial and U.S. Government customers," Schwarz added.

Is water propulsion the future of small satellite propulsion?

The firm's system provides a compelling, greener, and more cost-effective alternative to traditional space tugs that use chemical reactions to heat propellant. MET uses a novel approach that sees solar-powered microwaves generate hot plasma to heat its water propellant.

According to Momentus chief commercial officer Chris Kinman, MET "can provide future missions with higher efficiency than chemical propulsion systems and higher thrust than electric propulsion systems."

The latest demonstration was performed by the third Vigoride vessel Momentum has been sent to space in the space of just a year. It's not the only company to experiment with cost-effective space propulsion alternatives. In March, Japanese firm Pale Blue flew a nano-satellite using water vapor propulsion for the first time. NASA has also tested a similar technology with its Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator-1 spacecraft. In 2019, The Planetary Society used another cost-effective alternative, sunlight, to raise a small CubeSat's orbit by 1.9 miles (3.2 km) with its LightSail 2 mission.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board