World’s First All-Electric Propulsion Satellite Starts its Tour of Duty
US aerospace giant Boeing has announced that the ABS-3A, the world’s first all-electric propulsion satellite has started operations.
ABS-3A, which is now operated by global satellite operator ABS, will expand ABS’ communication services in the Americas, Africa, Europe and the Middle East regions. The 4,300 communication satellite features 48 C and Ku-band active transponders (96 x 36 MHz equivalent) and high-performance beams to support a rapidly growing market in the Americas, Africa, Europe and the Middle East regions. It's mission is to provide expansion capacity to reach markets servicing high-growth data, video, mobile apps and cloud-based applications.
Boeing launched ABS-3A aboard a Falcon 9 rocket in March and handed off control of the new satellite to its new owner and operator Bermuda-based Asia Broadcasting Satellite (ABS), at the end of August.
Unlike conventional satellites, which used propellant systems to burn chemicals of one kind or another to achieve thrust, the ABS-3A relies on the Xenon-Ion Propulsion System to generate thrust. It's all electric Xenon-Ion propulsion system contains a sufficient quantity of the inert, non-hazardous Xenon to extend the satellite’s operations beyond the expected design lifespan of 15 years.
While Xenon-Ion propulsion isn’t as powerful as chemical propellants when it comes to generating thrust, it can be more efficient than chemical propellant when it comes to a long-range space mission. With low fuel weight and high efficiency, Xenon-Ion Propulsion has become a strong contender for deep space exploration. Deep space explorations require huge amounts of energy to keep moving. Xenon-Ion propulsion can minimize the bulkiness of fuel, providing more room for scientific exploration and space crews.
The ABS-Boeing satellite partnership does not end here. Boeing is currently under contract to build two more such satellites, designated ABS-2A and ABS-8, which will be delivered and launched early next year and late 2017.
While the ABS-3A is the world’s first all-electric propulsion satellite, it’s certainly not the first spacecraft to incorporate electric propulsion in a space mission. Electric propulsion systems have been in existence since the 1960s. It's now a mature and widely used propulsion technology on a space mission. NASA has been using the technology for station keeping on communication satellites, orbit raising, and primary propulsion system for deep space probes.
SpaceX launches world’s first all-electric satellites on Falcon 9 rocket
Image Courtesy of Azom
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