Plasma thrusters: ideally suited to new orbital injection strategies

Safran Aircraft Engines pioneered electric propulsion systems in Europe. Today, to address changing orbital injection strategies for satellites, we are developing a wide range of plasma thrusters and propulsion systems that will help increase the payload on geostationary satellites, while also reducing launch costs.

Plasma-based propulsion is becoming the baseline solution for satellite stationing and attitude/orbit control. This electric propulsion technology, also called Hall effect or stationary plasma thrusters, offers a significant weight reduction compared with traditional chemical propulsion systems. In this type of system, a stream of electrons bombards a fuel (such as xenon gas), generating a plasma that is accelerated to produce very high specific impulse for applications in the vacuum of space where less absolute power is needed. Safran Aircraft Engines develops, integrates, tests and has successfully sold plasma propulsion systems for orbital propulsion and control of space probes and satellites. To date, we have provided steerable thruster module assemblies (TMA) based on plasma propulsion for seven Eurostar 3000 platforms from Airbus Defence and Space.

Safran Aircraft Engines also conceived and developed the EPTA plasma thruster assembly for OHB's Small Geo satellite platform family, with a first launch operated in 2015, on a Hispasat satellite. The PPS®1350, after its key role on the successful Smart-1 lunar mission from 2003 to 2006, has been qualified for the Alphabus platform built by Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space, already used on the Alphasat satellite launched in July 2013. To meet growing customer demand for "electric" satellites, Safran Aircraft Engines is fully capable of offering solutions tailored to each customer's specific needs, from orbital transfer to stationkeeping, in the power range from 300W to 20kW.   Globally, 20 to 25 telecommunication satellites are produced each year, of which 20 to 25% are generally equipped with 4 electric thrusters. This proportion has been rising steadily since 2014 and is expected to reach 50% within 5 to 10 years.

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