Ferrofluid Thrusters

Ferrofluids–magnetically-sensitive fluids made up of a carrier liquid and ferrous nanoparticles–may soon have a new application as a miniature thruster on nanosatellites. Microspray thrusters use tiny hollow needles to electrically spray jets of liquid that propel a satellite. But manufacturing the fragile microscopic needles used to disperse the propellant is expensive. Instead researchers are now using ferrofluids to create both the needle-like structures and to serve as the propellant. A ring of ferrofluid is placed on the thruster surface and a magnetic field applied to create the ferrofluid’s distinctive spikes. Then, when an electric force is applied, tiny jets of ferrofluid spray out from each tip, creating thrust. Unlike the conventional needles, the ferrofluid spikes are robust and can reform after being disturbed. (Photo credit: L. B. King et al.; submitted by jshoer)

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