An entirely new kind of propulsion for satellites orbiting the Earth is developing in the Czech Republic. The so-called air-breathing ion engine is supposed to allow satellites to fly at lower levels than today and virtually fuel-free, it will only need to draw the Earth's atmosphere.
Announced by the Czech Aerospace Research Center (VZLU), which will develop the engine together with a company SpaceLab EU. “Today you need fuel to keep satellites on orbit. The lower the orbit, the more fuel you need. Our engine type works great epecially there where is a residual atmosphere, which means especially on low orbits, ”says Vladimír Dániel of VZLU. It uses electrostatics - some particles are positively charged in the remaining atmosphere, others are negative. The engine is able to speed them up and give the satellite an impulse.
Nowadays, there are no satellites on the orbit below 400 kilometers above the Earth's surface. In scientific missions, they were able to keep them at these altitudes for up to two years before they ran out of fuel (mostly xenon). With the engine being developed in VZLU's premises, this space could be opened to satellites and its lifetime would be considerably extended - it would only depend on the durability of the materials. "Accessing these tracks with the new engine can bring a lot of development in telecommunications, earth observation, or genesis of space hotels," Mr. Daniel believes. For example, in telecommunications, this would mean less signal delays and lower transmitter power than today, or, for example, significantly more accurate and brighter Earth images.
There are about 15 types ion engines so far . This sixteenth differs from the rest because it doesn't need fuel. “We haven't registered any competitors for a long time. The only project, which approaches the technology, is an activity funded by the European Space Agency, which we do not perceive as a competition, on the contrary, it is a confirmation of interest in the area. A similar type of propulsion has been tested on their large experimental satellite, we are targeting much smaller satellites, thirty centimeters in size, ”explains businessman and innovator Michal Pajr, who came to the idea and approached VZLU two years ago.
Source: Hospodářské noviny
Provided by team CzechTrade Seoul