Design and characterisation of a bi-modal solar thermal propulsion and power system for small satellites

Fiona Leverone*, Angelo Cervone, Matteo Pini, Eberhard Gill

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
52 Downloads (Pure)


Small satellites with increased capabilities in terms of power and propulsion are being demanded for future missions. This paper addresses an alternative bi-modal solution which consists of a solar thermal propulsion system coupled with a micro-Organic Rankine Cycle system, to co-generate thrust and electrical power. Current literature on bi-modal systems is limited to static power conversion systems such as thermionic conversion processes. Therefore, this paper expands the research of bi-modal systems to dynamic power conversion systems and latent heat storage systems. The paper documents the design process, key design parameters, and feasibility of this system for a Geostationary Transfer Orbit to Lunar Orbit insertion mission. The results of a single-objective optimisation show the system is most suitable on-board small satellites with a gross mass above 300 kg. The propellant accounts for 50% of the total system mass. The final design uses Silicon as the latent heat energy storage system due to its high specific energy of more than 250 Wh/kg. Additionally, the enthalpy method is used to describe the dynamic behaviour of the phase change material and results show the insulation thermal conductivity has the largest effect, up to 17%, on the receiver's maximum achievable steady-state temperature.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116609
JournalApplied Thermal Engineering
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Mini-satellites
  • Silicon phase change material
  • Solar concentration
  • Ultra-high temperatures


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