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Propulsion Unit for CubeSats (PUC)

Propulsion Unit for CubeSats (PUC) are complete, high-performance, and compact small-satellite propulsion solutions.  The all-welded titanium bodies come fully integrated with all necessary propulsion subsystems, including microcontroller, power processing unit, micro-cavity discharge thruster, propellant valves, heaters, sensors, and software.  PUCs achieve their high impulse, low-volume capability by employing CU Aerospace Micro-Cavity Discharge (MCD) propellant heating technology, high-density and self-pressurizing liquid propellants, and an optimized low-mass-flow nozzle.  PUCs are software-configurable to operate over a wide range of power, thrust, and impulse levels.  System set-points, system status, and firing telemetry are all accessible and configurable through an RS422 serial interface.  PUCs may be customized to meet customer specific mission requirements.  PUCs are available in package sizes as small as 0.25U.

Current Propellant Options: SO2

Status: Available (~12 month lead time)

CubeSat High Impulse Propulsion System (CHIPS)

The CubeSat High Impulse Propulsion System (CHIPS) leverages CU Aerospace’s high efficiency and compact resistojet technology to significantly boost the performance of standard cold-gas systems.  A 1U CHIPS, using a non-toxic propellant, is a complete propulsion solution having a total estimated impulse of 563 N-s and a fully throttleable continuous thrust of 30 mN. The system also includes a 3-axis cold-gas attitude control system as a replacement for reaction wheels.  System set-points, system status, and firing telemetry are all accessible and configurable through an RS422 serial interface.  CHIPS may be customized to meet customer specific mission requirements.

Current Propellant Options: R134a, R236fa

Status: Available (~12 month lead time)

Monofilament Vaporization Propulsion (MVP) Thruster System

CUA has developed an electrothermal thruster which consumes an inert polymer propellant fiber. This technology retains performance characteristics competitive with other warm gas systems, but enables more accessibility to micropropulsion via dramatically reduced cost and the elimination of range safety concerns. CUA’s Monofilament Vaporization Propulsion (MVP) draws from extrusion 3D printer technology to feed and melt polymer propellant in preparation for evaporation and heating up to 1000K using CUA’s micro-resistojet technology. Despite undergoing depolymerization and two separate phase changes, the system power requirements are manageable, demonstrating typical specific thrusts of 0.16 mN/W, and a maximum specific impulse in excess of 100 s. System performance contained in a 1U package is 540 N-s total impulse from 660 g of Delrin monofilament propellant, operating at 35 W, 6.7 mN, and 83 s Isp.

Current Propellant Options: Delrin

Status: Available (~9 month lead time)

Fiber-fed Pulsed Plasma Thruster (FPPT)

Engineers at CUA have developed a filament pulsed plasma thruster (FPPT) which consumes PTFE propellant in spooled form, fed with extrusion 3D printer technology like the CUA MVP thruster. The thruster uses massive parallelism in its energy storage unit (ESU) design, assembling COTS components into discrete modular 10 J capacitor assemblies while maintaining low per-cap specific current levels. Discharge initiation is accomplished via a regenerative carbon igniter array located in the thruster cathode. Thruster performance varies with fuel feed rate, with 20 J ESU configuration measured values ranging from 0.122 mN-s @ 1005 s to 0.088 mN-s @ 1735 s. Highest specific impulse measured 2400 s in a 40 J configuration. A 1U design provides 4900 N-s total impulse. Accelerated subsystem life testing has demonstrated > 80M capacitor charge / discharge cycles with nearly identical specific current waveforms. FPPT utilizes the completely non-toxic solid propellant Teflon with benign exhaust, has no corrosive or propellant plugging issues, and has on-demand thrust with no warmup time requirement. Further, the ability to control both input power and propellant feed rate allows tuning from higher-Isp operation to higher-thrust operation. CUA believes that the FPPT technology is a compelling option to meet many micropropulsion needs.

Current Propellant Options: Teflon

Status: Available (~12 month lead time)

Monopropellant Propulsion Unit for CubeSats (MPUC)

CU Aerospace has tested a proof-of-principle Monopropellant Propulsion Unit for CubeSats (MPUC). Complete catalyzed combustion was demonstrated of a H2O2-based propellant denoted as CMP-8. CMP-8 has zero toxicity and no special measures are required for its long-term storage. The propellant was subjected to a scaled UN Series 1 detonation test series and demonstrated no detonation propagation when confined under a charge of high explosive. Potentiometric titrations with standardized sodium bisulfite demonstrated no degradation in the CMP-8 over a three-year, room-temperature storage period. Thrust stand tests achieved a thrust level of >100mN at Isp >183 s with an average input power of ~3 W, for hot fire runs typically spanning >10 minutes. A single run of greater than one hour was also demonstrated. While some other monopropellants have a minor advantage in Isp, the MPUC propellant has advantages in availability, cost, lower flame temperature (less thermal management and radiation losses), lower pre-heat temperature, lower viscosity, and low thruster materials costs. MPUC designs comprise a complete propulsion system technology for CubeSats and other small satellites, with a high performance, nontoxic monopropellant that possesses benign storage characteristics. The conceptual system also provides cold-gas attitude control and projects >1200 N-s/liter of volumetric impulse.

Current Propellant Options: Peroxide-Ethanol

Status: Available (~12 month lead time)


For pricing, availability, and further information regarding our small-satellite propulsion units, please contact Dr. David Carroll by email at or by phone at 217-239-1703.

PUC-184-SO2 Photo

Photograph 0.25U Propulsion Unit for CubeSats (Model: PUC-184-SO2)


PUC-SO2 Datasheet (July 2018)
PUC-184-SO2 Datasheet (June 2014)
PUC-184 CAD File (stp) (June 2014)
CHIPS Datasheet (October 2019) - updated
MVP Datasheet (January 2020) - updated
FPPT Datasheet (January 2020) - updated
Propulsion Systems Performance Matrices (May 2020) - updated


C. A. Woodruff , D. M. King, R. L. Burton, and D. L. Carroll, "Fiber-fed Pulsed Plasma Thruster (FPPT) for Small Satellites," , 36th International Electric Propulsion Conference, Vienna, Austria, , September 15-20, 2019, IEPC, Vol. , No. 899, pp. 1-12, DOI , (2019)

C. Woodruff, D. King, R. Burton, J. Bowman, D. Carroll, "Development of a Fiber-Fed Pulsed Plasma Thruster for Small Satellites," , Small Satellite Conference, Logan, UT, , 04 Aug 2019, , Vol. , No. , pp. , DOI , (2019)

C. Woodruff, D. Carroll, D. King, R. Burton, and N. Hejmanowski, "Monofilament Vaporization Propulsion (MVP) – CubeSat propulsion system with inert polymer propellant," , Small Satellite Conference, Logan, UT, , Aug. 6-9, 2018, , Vol. , No. , pp. , DOI , (2018)

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