Space

First satellites with all-electric propulsion call home

First satellites with all-elec...
Artist's concept of the 702SP satellite (Image; Boeing
Artist's concept of the 702SP satellite (Image; Boeing
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The Falcon 9 booster did not make a landing attempt after the launch (Photo: SpaceX)
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The Falcon 9 booster did not make a landing attempt after the launch (Photo: SpaceX)
Launch of the ion-propelled satellites (Photo: SpaceX)
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Launch of the ion-propelled satellites (Photo: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 on the pad (Photo: SpaceX)
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Falcon 9 on the pad (Photo: SpaceX)
One of the 702SPs separating (Photo: SpaceX)
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One of the 702SPs separating (Photo: SpaceX)
(Photo: SpaceX)
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(Photo: SpaceX)
Artist's concept of the 702SP satellite (Image; Boeing
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Artist's concept of the 702SP satellite (Image; Boeing
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The launch of two new communications satellites may not seem like news these days, but it is when they're the first satellites with all-electric propulsion. Boeing announced that the two 702SP small platform satellites, called ABS-3A and EUTELSAT 115 West B, that launched on Sunday evening are sending back signals to mission control as they power towards geosynchronous orbit under ion drive.

According to Boeing, the 702SPs were developed in less than three years and are designed for light weight and affordability. ABS-3A, which belongs to Bermuda-based ABS, will be stationed at 3° West longitude and will provide communications to the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. EUTELSAT 115 West B under EUTELSAT headquartered in Paris will sit at 114.9° West longitude and provide data services to Latin America, Canada, and Alaska.

The key technology of the two new geosynchronous comsats is their Xenon Ion Propulsion System (XIPS). Hybrid systems that use a mix of chemical and ion propellants have been sent into orbit before, but this is the first time satellites have been deployed with an all-electric drive.

Launch of the ion-propelled satellites (Photo: SpaceX)
Launch of the ion-propelled satellites (Photo: SpaceX)

Boeing says that the technology is based on 210,000 hours of ion propulsion flight experience and is 10 times more efficient than liquid-fueled rockets. Four 25-cm (9.8-in) thrusters using xenon as a propellant allow the 702SP satellites to maintain stationkeeping while using only 5 kg (11 lb) of fuel per year, which is a great saving because the satellites need less fuel and smaller thrusters, which reduces launch costs.

The satellites were launched on March 1 at 10:50 pm EST from SpaceX’s Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. SpaceX says that it was the company's most voluminous payload yet. The pair were launched as a conjoined stack atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket using Boeing technology to reduce costs.

One of the 702SPs separating (Photo: SpaceX)
One of the 702SPs separating (Photo: SpaceX)

Unlike other recent Falcon 9 launches, this one did not see the booster try for a controlled powered landing attempt. Shortly before Sunday's lift off, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk explained in a tweet that no attempt would be made to land the Falcon 9 booster because the supersynchronous trajectory wouldn't leave enough surplus propellant for the maneuver. "Next landing attempt will be 3rd from now," said Musk. "Tonight's flight and following one will not have enough propellant."

Source: Boeing

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7 comments
Jon Smith
It's not an "all-electric", it still requires propellant as you state in the article. Very misleading heading for the article as an electric only drive would be quite amazing, as far as I'm aware there isn't even a concept for one yet...
Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
Reading the title, the ion propulsion system is what popped in my mind as far as existing state of the art propulsions system goes.
Adorable pumpkin
@Jon The heading is correct.
The term all-electric just means that it won't be drawing thrust from chemical reactions, but instead electrical. Propellants will be required either way. An ion drive, as the name implies ionises particles and then magnetically accelerate those particles in the opposite direction to produce thrust.
All propulsion in space must have a propellant unless you are using either a solar sail type system or an inertial drive, which to this date only the EMdrive comes close.
Anh Phan
The title is mis-leading. It's not '"all-electric". It uses Xenon. Xenon is a gas. Once it runs out of propellant, its done.
Jon Doe
I agree, the article is very misleading considering there is a technology out there that is all electric (i.e. Cannae Drive or EmDrive) unlike ion drive that uses a noble gas propellant which has been used for a while now in the Dawn spacecraft launched 8 years ago!
Daryl Sonnier
Completely electric drive is possible, or at least NASA experiments show it to be the case that you can use quantum vacuum fluctuations to push against. http://www.popsci.com/article/technology/fuel-less-space-drive-may-actually-work-says-nasa
Glen Davis
Put a choppie in one , or two, or more. Send them all over. Read everything as it goes. When choppie arrives...