Advanced Television

PhaseFour offers new thrusters for LEO

October 21, 2022

Hawthorne, California-based Phase Four is an advanced engineering supplier of radio-frequency thrusters for satellite propulsion. It says it will expand its Maxwell turnkey, plasma propulsion line and offer satellite manufacturers a high-performance ion engine using an inexpensive, US-sourced iodine-based propellant.

PhaseFour’s Max-V unit builds on its Maxwell Block 2 engine’s architecture and utilises the radio-frequency thruster’s propellant agnostic capabilities. The new Max-V units will be ready for delivery next year.

The product specifically targets the extremely fast-growing demand for low Earth orbit broadband satellites, as well as larger craft. With double digit commercial flight units of its earlier designs now delivered, the company is now focusing on its Max-V development effort. Maxwell’s new chassis-style design enables rapid on-ramping of improvements in the core areas of the thruster, power electronics and propellant subsystems. This architecture is streamlining the Max-V development process as is the company’s significant experience with iodine-based propellants through its recent US Air Force’s AFWERX award.

The new propellant solution is key because traditional fuels such as Xenon and Krypton are not widely available and largely produced in Russia, Ukraine and China.

“We’ve always said that Phase Four delivers game changing propulsion systems, and Max-V will do just that,” said Phase Four CEO, Beau Jarvis. “We are building a product that will dramatically lower costs and extend operational lifetimes of small satellites in Low Earth Orbit and provide significantly higher total impulse for missions beyond LEO.”

PhaseFour now has – since September – the former NASA boss Jim Bridenstine as one of its directors (he is also on the Board of Viasat).

“The idea that we can get away from those traditional fuels and get into things like iodine and water, I think [should] significantly drop costs and create an environment where you don’t have as many opportunities for disruption,” Bridenstine said last month.

PhaseFour has raised some $30 million since its founding in 2015. It is likely to be seeking more cash in 2023 and boost staff from today’s 32 to about 50 over the next year.


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