Original image for Mike Libby’s clockwork creepy crawlies – from the Telegraph
40 years or so ago, when ion propulsion was first gaining some ground, there were lots of ideas about missions. Electric propulsion devices would enable more daring scientific challenges, increase real estate for satellite buses…push space technology in new directions…
You’ve probably seen, read or heard this before, if you have any interest in ion propulsion. But what’s interesting is that it’s only been in recent years that there seems to be any real traction in using these plasma devices in mainstream satellite missions.
Even though the technology is not by any means new…it has still taken the successes of the last 12 to 13 years of specific missions (for example Deep Space 1, SMART-1, Hayabusa) to really get this “lazy dog” moving!
Ion thrusters have been developed over decades. The whole Stationary Plasma Thruster (SPT) programs in Russia are a good example. And these devices were flown!
Then in the UK, and something I’m familiar with, was the development of the T5 and T6. The original idea for a T5 thruster to be used on a gravity mission can be traced back to Dave Fearn’s work in the 1990’s.
So it sounds like a same old story situation. A not-so-new technology finally gets its deserved rewards…the baby starts to crawl! And the reason why the crawl seems to be on is because there are now examples of 3 big ion propulsion technology applications:
There is the move by Inmarsat to use the Boeing XIPS thrusters – basically using ion thrusters on a modern large-scale mainstream commercial telecomms program
Then of course there is Bepi Colombo (the ESA/JAXA mission to Mercury) using ion propulsion (QinetiQ’s T6 thrusters) to get there.
And lastly the use of the HEMP thrusters on the Artes 11 Small Geo series of satellites. A move to bring more different types of thrusters into use.
So it seems that the crawl is on..and for what it’s worth the use of ion propulsion on more missions is always good to see!