Experimental Facilities Tour

Space Propulsion Lab


Attention SPL Users

Download, read and familiarize with the following before using the facilities


General Laboratory Guidelines

Vacuum System Procedures


ASTROVAC Availability | Chemical Inventory



The Space Propulsion Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology features state-of-the-art experimental facilities that complement our educational and research programs. MIT students, staff, faculty and approved visitors are eligible to work at SPL, provided that safety training requirements are met and users are familiarized with the laboratory environment.


Facility Image


Facility Description




Astrovac is the laboratory’s largest vacuum chamber. It is located in room 37-462. The steel vacuum vessel measures about 1.5 m in diameter by 1.6 m long and is pumped down by two cryo-pumps. Astrovac is bakeable, and when empty capable of reaching ultimate pressures of about 1e-7 Torr, with a pumping speed of 7000 liters/sec of Xenon. This tank can accommodate additional hardware such as plasma diagnostic probes, energy analyzers, motorized stages, etc. Several windows located around the chamber allow visual inspection of the working equipment. Astrovac is used for testing plasma and electrospray thrusters developed at SPL. It is also used to host the Maglev Cubesat Testbed (MCT).



Maglev Cubesat Testbed

The Maglev Cubesat Testbed (MCT) was designed and built by MIT students to provide a realistic environment to test nanosatellite hardware. The MCT makes use of magnetic levitation to suspend a cubesat-sized satellite inside the Astrovac vacuum chamber. Magnetic levitation allows rotational motion around the vertical axis. This motion is practically frictionless, such that the satellite can rotate freely without contacting chamber materials. The MCT is used to explore the way a small satellite will behave in space once it is equipped with thrusters, electronics, sensors, actuators, batteries, on-board computer, radio and payload. Spacecraft charging, rotational motion due to thrust, and integrity of all components in a vacuum environment can be investigated with the MCT.




Sputnik is a vacuum chamber attached to the Astrovac that improves research and testing capabilities, especially of electrospray thrusters. Although small (30 cm DIA), this chamber has ample accessibility through a variety of instrumentation feedthroughs. Sputnik is pumped down by one 70 liters/sec turbomolecular pump, but since it is attached to the larger chamber through an isolation gate, the pumping speed can be increased to >5,000 liters/sec while adding the flexibility of using characterization instruments inside the bigger chamber, e.g. time-of-flight mass spectrometer or a retarding potential analyzer. Depending on the particular experiment, different equipment would be installed in this chamber. For example, a 3-axis translational stage with sub-micron resolution, micro-channel-plate/phosphor screen beam visualization system, and linear manipulation stage effectively turn Sputnik into a loading dock for the Astrovac.




Minivac is a smaller vacuum facility dedicated to test single emitter electrosprays. It is pumped down by two 70 liters/sec turbomolecular pumps, providing ultimate pressures of under 1e-7 Torr. This chamber houses our combined energy and specific charge analyzer using a combination of retarding potential and time-of-flight techniques. The turnaround time of this facility is fast, and ample signal, power and fluid feedthroughs have been provided.



Chemicals Processing

The SPL has two standard fume hoods capable of handling a large number of processes. These hoods are used to synthesize materials and ionic liquids for propulsion research, and also for miscellaneous chemical reactions and cleaning steps.



Optics Bench

The SPL has a standard perforated and isolated table bench used as a generic platform to test optics systems and devices. Lasers, lenses, mirrors and detectors are available for this bench.



Clean Room

SPL has a clean room (class 10,000) located in room 35-405a currently used to support the laboratory’s research in electrospray thrusters. In addition to a variety of equipment and work benches, this room includes the following: i) Flightvac and Megavac, are two vacuum chambers used to prepare and test electrospray thruster devices; ii) Scanning electron microscope & visual inspection microscopy station; iii) Synthesis furnace for the synthesis of materials.


Laser Micromachining Facility

The Laser Micromachining Facility (LMF) is located in room 35-405. It is comprised of a KrF excimer laser, a beam delivery system and a precise x-y-z stage that allows precise ablation of a large number of materials.