Space Transportation company Bellatrix Aerospace has achieved a major technical milestone by testing India’s first privately built Hall Thruster, a highly efficient electric propulsion system for satellites. The company had earlier developed world’s first commercial Microwave Plasma Thruster, which used water as fuel, and for which the company had bagged an order from ISRO.
Innovative Low Power Hall Thruster being tested inside an ultra-high vacuum test facility
Tests were carried out at the sophisticated Spacecraft Propulsion Research Laboratory that the Bellatrix has setup at its lab located at SID-IISc. The company has setup Asia’s largest privately funded lab of this kind and houses state of the integrated vacuum test facility that simulates the harsh space environments that satellites have to withstand in space.
Rohan M Ganapthy, CEO & CTO said, “The company has been working on a this technology in stealth mode for the last 4 years to take it from the drawing board to qualification levels. Heaterless Cathode Technology is the key innovation that sets us apart from the competition by increasing life and redundancy and life of the system. We are also the first ones in the country to have designed it to operate efficiently at very low current levels. The entire team of Scientists and Advisors at our Electric Propulsion System Division have put in relentless efforts to prove this can be independently done in India by a private company from scratch”
This thruster is ideal for micro satellites weighing 50kg to 500kg and can be scaled up for heavier satellites. It also forms a critical technology for the Space Taxi that the company is developing. Bellatrix had earlier announced collaborations with other space companies, Satsure, Skyroot Aerospace and Dhruva Space on its ambitious OTV mission.
Compared to conventional chemical propulsion technologies, electric propulsion systems offer much higher specific impulse, viz., mileage, thus allowing satellites to carry more useful transponders and achieve 3X higher return on investment. The Hall Thruster technology was initially developed in Russia and today, is the most reliable and time tested electric propulsion system in the market.
The current model of the thruster uses Xenon as fuel, however the company is working on other proprietary propellants that can make the propulsion system more compact and cost efficient.
Rajesh Natarajan, a senior Scientist at EPSD division at Bellatrix who played a key role in this development talks about the journey through the development phase. “The major challenge around Hall Thrusters comes with the complex plasma physics and precise engineering involved in taming the plasma behavior. The plasma must be isolated from the walls of the thruster, hence, smaller the thruster, the more complex it gets. The way to achieve this is less known. We have succeeded in developed the smallest Hall Thruster in the country”, he explains.
The company explains that a suite of innovations have been brought in to achieve long life of operation, excellent performance and modular design for cubesat configurations. Additionally, Bellatrix Aerospace is also developing green chemical propulsion system that forms an eco-friendly high performance alternative for toxic and carcinogenic Hydrazine based propellants.
“With this addition to our portfolio, we are in a position to offer best in class electric propulsion systems. We have designed this thruster with numerous considerations that make it an ideal engine to power the major satellite constellations that will be launched during this decade. It offers class-leading performance and life. Our Microwave Plasma Thrusters offer the highest thrust-to-power ratio for heavier satellites”, added Rohan.
Bellatrix is working towards flying this thruster on a satellite mission in the coming months. This will open the company’s gateway to commercial market by end of this year.