Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


College of Engineering


Pauline Faure

Advisor Department

Aerospace Engineering

Advisor College

College of Engineering


The research presented provides an overview of a 1U+ form factor propulsion system design developed for the Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory (CPCL). This design utilizes a Radiofrequency Electrothermal Thruster (RFET) called Pocket Rocket that can generate 9.30 m/s of delta-V with argon, and 20.2 ± 3 m/s of delta-V with xenon. Due to the demand for advanced mission capabilities in the CubeSat form factor, a need for micro-propulsion systems that can generate between 1 – 1500 m/s of delta-V are necessary.

By 2019, Pocket Rocket had been developed to a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 5 and ground tested in a 1U CubeSat form factor that incorporated propellant storage, pressure regulation, RF power and thruster control, as well as two Pocket Rocket thrusters under vacuum, and showcased a thrust of 2.4 mN at a required 10 Wdc of power with Argon propellant. The design focused on ground testing of the thruster and did not incorporate all necessary components for operation of the thruster. Therefore in 2020, a 1U+ Propulsion Module that incorporates Pocket Rocket, the RF amplification PCB, a propellant tank, propellant regulation and delivery, as well as a DC-RF conversion with a PIB, that are all attached to a 2U customer CubeSat for a 3U+ overall form factor. This design was created to increase the TRL level of Pocket Rocket from 5 to 8 by demonstrating drag compensation in a 400 km orbit with a delta-V of 20 ± 3 m/s in the flight configuration. The 1U+ Propulsion Module design included interface and requirements definition, assembly instructions, Concept of Operations (ConOps), as well as structural and thermal analysis of the system. The 1U+ design enhances the capabilities of Pocket Rocket in a 1U+ form factor propulsion system and increases future mission capabilities as well as propulsion system heritage for the CPCL.