Luxembourg satellite operator SES is planning an all-electric propulsion satellite. Martin Halliwell, CTO at SES, says such a satellite would save around 2.5 tonnes from its launch weight (compared with a typical 6.5 tonnes for a conventionally fuelled satellite) with commensurate savings in launch costs.
SES President Romain Bausch confirmed the scheme, saying SES would likely issue Requests For Proposals to satellite builders shortly. Bausch explained that going ‘all electric’ offered other benefits, not least using the saved weight to add more payload options. “We could increase the number of transponders,” he said.
However, even though plenty of satellites have carried a Xenon-Ion electric propulsion (XIPS) option as an addition to conventional fuel, it is believed that no other satellite operator has gone with only electric propulsion.
XIPS-equipped satellites take much longer to manoeuvre into position following launch, and Bausch said the ideal situation would be to launch such a craft as a replacement vehicle for an established satellite, where the existing satellite still had plenty of life left in it. The XIPS craft could then slowly move onto its designated position, and potentially then free up the original satellite to be located elsewhere.