MSc thesis project proposal

Smart Micro Thrusters for CubeSats

The aerospace industry is recently expressing a growing interest in green, safe and non-toxic propellants for the propulsion systems of the new generation of space vehicles, which is especially true in the case of CubeSat micro-propulsion systems. The availability of a propulsion system will open new possibilities for a wide range of applications for CubeSats including orbital maintenance and transfer, formation flying and attitude control. To accomplish these requirements, Delft University of Technology is currently developing a micro-thruster, in which electrical heaters are used to convert liquid water into heated water vapor; Vaporising Liquid Micro thruster (VLM). The VLM’s are fabricated using silicon based MEMS technologies (see figure 1).

The use of silicon based MEMS technologies enables the integration of other devices, MEMS, as well as electronics together with the VLM, all in the same silicon chip. The on-chip integration of a pressure sensor, a flow sensor, and heater control electronics, will improve the performance of a VLM and enables a further miniaturization of the whole micro propulsion system. Such a system is further referred to as a smart micro thruster.

Project summary

Within the research program towards the development of a smart micro thruster, 3 MSc projects are defined:
  1. Development and integration of a silicon MEMS pressure sensor
  2. Development and integration of a silicon MEMS flow sensor
  3. Development and integration of heater control electronics

For each project, one student will design, fabricate and test a relevant MEMS and IC device. A device architecture must be selected that is compatible with the current VLM fabrication flow. The devices are fabricated in the TUD/EKL cleanroom using MEMS and/or IC processing technologies. The devices are tested either in dedicated test setups and/or as integrated into a VLM. The students are expected to, besides reporting the obtained results in their MSc thesis, contribute to a scientific journal or conference publications, if applicable. Although the projects are linked they can be performed as individual projects as well.

Contact info:

Marsil de Athayde Costa e Silva, Space Systems Engineering, tel: +31 15 27 81934 ,
Murali Ghatkesar, Micro and Nano Engineering, tel: +31 15 27 82299, e-mail:
Henk van Zeijl, EKL-IC Processing, tel: +31 15 27 81092, e-mail:


Last modified: 2017-07-14