Before long a new class of low orbit satellites could remain active for years thanks to new technology that harvest air in the thin atmosphere.
A European Space Agency (ESA) team has invented an electric thruster that gathers molecules from the upper atmosphere and gives them electric shocks to provide a boost. Present technology means that satellite operations are restricted by the requirement for on-board boosters. ESA’s GOCE gravity mapper, for example, was able to function for five years thanks to an electric thruster that minimised air drag, but still depended on 40kg of xenon. As soon as that was depleted, the mission ended.
A multitude of companies, including NASA, ViviSat and The China National Space Administration have already proven some in-space refuelling proficiencies, but this new technology is a more sophisticated answer to the issue.
Image: ESA – Air-breathing space mission
This story is taken from the 09 March 2018 edition of The Warren Centre’s Prototype newsletter. Sign up for the Prototype here.