The European satellite industry is engaged in the ESA Large Platform mission project, a new high performance satellite platform with a payload power range between 12 and 18 kW, developed jointly by Alcatel Space and Astrium within the ALPHABUS team. This project will enhance the European competitiveness on the satellite world market.
Conceptual schematic of PPS®5000 on lightweight orientation mechanism
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Current, state of the art Hall (plasma) thrusters operating at lower power levels have demonstrated long operational lifetimes. A key issue addressed in this project - and a very significant step forward indeed - was the demonstration of long life capability for a Hall thruster at high discharge voltage (> 500 V). Such a voltage level provides a very promising combination of specific impulse - or propellant use efficiency - and thrust-specific power, in kW/N, which is a measure of the cost of generating the desired thrust.
By increasing its specific impulse, Hall effect technology will allow satellite manufacturers to consider station keeping performance close to that which can be reached by gridded ion engines: the slightly lower Isp is balanced by a lower system dry mass and lower recurring costs.
The high power Hall-effect thruster subsystem proposed under this contract is dedicated to station keeping and possibly orbit topping duties for large platform. Thus, it involves at least 4 Hall-effect thrusters along with their cathode (one cathode per thruster can be sufficient), their Xenon Flow Controllers (one XFC per cathode) and their electrical supplies.
As early as end of 1999, Snecma Moteurs and Alcatel/ETCA started activities on a high power Hall-effect thruster solution. In addition, with CNES and ESA support, a technological demonstrator thruster called PPS®X000 and a Bread Board HPPU anode supply have been manufactured and tested.