The physics underlying operation of cold (room-temperature) ionic-liquid emitter sources for use in propulsion shows that such thrusters are advantaged relative to all other “rockets” because of the direct scaling of power with emitter array density. Nanomaterials and their integration through nano- and microfabrication can propel these charged-particle sources to the forefront and open up new applications including mass-efficient in-orbit satellite propulsion and high-thrust-density deep-space exploration. Analyses of electrostatic, fluid-dynamic, and electrochemical limits all suggest that arrays of such ionic-liquid thrusters can reach thrust densities beyond most in-space propulsion concepts, with a limit on nanoporous thruster packing density of ∼1 μm due to ionic-liquid viscous flow and electrochemistry. Nanoengineered materials and manufacturing schemes are suggested for the implementation of microfabricated and nanostructured thruster arrays.
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