Mar 6, 2018

New thruster tech converts air molecules into fuel for orbiting satellites

Posted by in categories: particle physics, satellites

The European Space Agency created the world’s first thruster which allows satellites to remain in orbit for years longer than they currently do. The secret? The thruster runs on particles of air in the atmosphere.

Others have tried to improve the staying power of satellites before, but most are still limited by the amount of fuel they can carry. The new ion thruster “breathes” the rare air particles in the top of the atmosphere, allowing the satellites to remain without immediate need for refueling.

The thruster was developed by an ESA team and built by SITAEL, a private company in Italy. The air particles bounce away from satellites normally, but the thruster collects them and gives them an electric charge, after which they are ejected to provide thrust that counteracts atmospheric drag.

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