August 31, 2023

Rubicon’s ASCENT Propulsion System to Power NASA Dual-Mode Project

Rubicon’s ASCENT Propulsion System to Power NASA Dual-Mode Project

Rubicon Space Systems receives a NASA contract to deliver ASCENT propulsion systems for use in a technology development effort to advance dual-mode propulsion. Dual-mode propulsion (sometimes called multi-mode propulsion) is when both chemical and electric thrusters operate using the same propellant. The Sprite propulsion module uses the Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-Toxic Propellant (ASCENT) propellant. ASCENT monopropellant based propulsion provides missions with a high performance and low toxicity alternative to hydrazine. Because ASCENT is an ionic liquid, it can be used in electric thrusters as well. NASA will use the Sprite module for the chemical propulsion side of the demonstration but will also siphon propellant from it to feed several electric thrusters.

When asked about it, Daniel Cavender, the Director of Propulsion for Rubicon Space Systems, had this to say. “Dual-mode propulsion is considered the zenith of in-space propulsion. It’s the combination of high impulse and high efficiency in one package. It would allow spacecraft to move with agility and precision. We think this will be commonplace in the near future and the chance for us to be part of this work is terribly exciting for us.”  

In development since early 2022, Sprite is a fully enclosed, plug-and-play propulsion system for SmallSats, and is also useful for collision avoidance and deorbit maneuvers. Sprite can deliver over 1200 Ns of total impulse, the equivalent of 100 m/s of delta V to a 12U CubeSat, and features Rubicon’s flight qualified 0.1N thruster, fully integrated flight controller, and valves. Nearly all components have spaceflight heritage. The Sprite propulsion system passed its Critical Design Review (CDR) in December 2022 and its first four engineering development units (EDUs) are expected to complete qualification efforts in Q3 2023.

Over the next several months, Rubicon will complete structural qualification of the additively manufactured propellant tank and begin assembly of the protoflight unit. “By March 2024, we will deliver the first flight ready Sprite module to our NASA customer.” Cavender said. “We’re glad to be working with NASA to continue innovation and infusion of ASCENT propulsion technologies.” The award, worth up to $645K, is made through a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase III contract. The NASA technology project is led by NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) Science and Technology Office (STO), and is funded by NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technologies (SST) program in the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

About Rubicon Space Systems: Rubicon Space Systems, a Division of Plasma Processes LLC, is a manufacturer of thrusters and propulsion systems that use the advanced space craft energetic non-toxic (ASCENT) propellant [AF-M315E]. Applications are in-space propulsion, collision avoidance, deorbit, and multi-mode. Our team leads the world in the development and infusion of ASCENT-based technology.

About Plasma Processes: Plasma Processes is a supplier of advanced materials solutions to commercial and government customers in the aerospace, defense, power generation, oil & gas, semi-conductor, and other key industries, with expertise with high and ultra-high temperature materials, such as iridium, rhenium, tungsten and molybdenum, and can apply coatings or create custom parts and powders using our advanced deposition processes.  Plasma Processes is AS9100D with ISO 9001:2015 certified. For more information, visit: