An Airbus-built electric satellite Eutelsat 172B has reached its target geostationary orbit in record time. Eutelsat 172B was only launched on June 1st, and uses electrical ION thrusters to reach orbit. This system represents massive savings in the amount of on-board fuel which a chemically-driven satellite would need.
The downside is that such electric thrusters are ‘slow but steady’ and the usual rule of thumb is to allow around 5-6 months for orbit raising.
Airbus says: “The Airbus spacecraft control centre in Toulouse took control for early operations, initialisation, deployment of the solar array and electric propulsion arms, and completed initial testing prior to initiating the Electric Orbit Raising phase on 8 June. During this four-month phase, electric thrusters smoothly and efficiently propelled the satellite to the targeted orbit, consuming almost six times less propellant mass than for a satellite with chemical propulsion.”
Following completion of the payload in-orbit tests and drift to its operational location led by the Eutelsat team, the satellite is scheduled to enter commercial service in November to provide enhanced telecommunications, in-flight broadband and broadcast services for the Asia-Pacific region. Its life span is expected to exceed 15 years thanks to electric propulsion for in-orbit raising and station-keeping.
“We are the first company to demonstrate full electric propulsion for satellites of this size and capacity, enabling their launch in the most cost-efficient manner. Furthermore, with our system design, operation strategy and the plasma thruster technology we implement, we have completed the fastest electric orbit raising ever from transfer to geostationary orbit, which will allow Eutelsat to put their electric satellite into service in record time”, said Nicolas Chamussy, Head of Space Systems at Airbus.
Yohann Leroy, Eutelsat’s Chief Technical Officer, added: “Eutelsat 172B confirms the relevance of Eutelsat’s early adoption of electric propulsion technology to optimise capex. In combining electric propulsion, High Throughput capacity, robotic arms and 3D printing techniques, our new satellite also reflects Europe’s capability to push the envelope of innovation in order to increase the competitiveness of our business. We look forward to bringing Eutelsat 172B into service next month for our clients in the Asia-Pacific region.”