A Solar Thermal Steam Propulsion System Using Disassociated Steam for Interplanetary Exploration

Leonard Vance, Agustin Espinoza, Jorge Martinez Dominguez, Salil Rabade, Gavin Liu, Jekan Thangavelautham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sustainable space exploration will require using off-world resources for propellant generation. Using off-world-generated propellants significantly increases future missions’ range and payload capacity. Near Earth Objects (NEOs) contain a range of available resources, most notably water-ice and hydrated minerals. However, water-bearing regolith needs to be excavated and the water extracted. Water is a compelling choice for fuel as it is readily available in interplanetary space and easily stored. In this paper, we propose using solar concentrators, which can efficiently convert incident sunlight into heat without the need for moving parts. When water is heated up to 4000 K, a value consistent with high-performance refractive materials, it experiences significant disassociation into H2, O2, OH, H, and O components, providing a path for adding considerable additional chemical energy per degree of temperature increase, and producing theoretical specific impulse (Isp) values in the range of 643 s to 659 s.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number84
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • ISRU
  • propulsion
  • small spacecraft
  • steam disassociation
  • system design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering


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