Use of micro satellites have become a prevailing trend, and now scientists have developed a new kind of miniature satellite called CubeSat that can use tiny bursts of water vapour for movement in space.
Numerous tasks might be performed with the launch of thousands of these miniature satellites ranging from high-resolution imaging and internet services, to disaster response, environmental monitoring and military surveillance.
Alina Alexeenko, a professor at Purdue University in the US stated, "They offer an opportunity for new missions, such as constellation flying and exploration that their larger counterparts cannot economically achieve".
These CubeSats require micropropulsion devices to deliver precise low-thrust "impulse bits" for scientific, commercial and military space applications in order to reach their full potential.
The new system, called a Film-Evaporation MEMS Tunable Array (FEMTA) thruster, uses capillaries small enough to harness the microscopic properties of water.
Since the capillaries are only about 10 micrometers in diameter, the surface tension of the fluid keeps it from flowing out, even in the vacuum of space.
The thurst is made available by activating small heaters located near the ends of the capillaries that creates water vapour.
"Water is thought to be abundant on the Martian moon Phobos, making it potentially a huge gas station in space", Alexeenko said.
"Water is also a very clean propellant, reducing risk of contamination of sensitive instruments by the backflow from thruster plumes", he added.
While conventional satellites require specialised electronics that can withstand the harsh conditions of space, CubeSats can be built with low-cost, off-the-shelf components.
(With inputs from PTI)