Phase Four Wins U.S. Air Force Contract for Electric Propulsion of Satellites

By Phase Four8 days ago

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif., April 8, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Phase Four, the creator of the radio-frequency thruster for satellite propulsion, announced today that it has secured a contract with theU.S. Air Force for the company's propellant-agnostic Maxwell thruster. Under the contract, Maxwell will utilize iodine, a new alternative fuel, to replace the costly, legacy electric propulsion propellants in high-performance commercial and defense applications.

Under a new contract with the U.S. Air Force, Phase Fours propellant-agnostic Maxwell thruster (pictured here) will utilize iodine, a new alternative fuel, to replace the costly, legacy electric propulsion propellants in high-performance commercial and defense applications.

“There is a growing need for more options for advanced electric in-space propulsion, to provide satellites with better maneuverability and operability in space at an affordable cost, and propellant flexibility could provide new options for in-space propulsion,“ said Dr. Dan Eckhardt, Electric Propulsion Lead at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.

The hallmark of Phase Four's versatile RF Thruster technology is its flexible architecture, which can utilize traditional noble gases and new alternative sources ranging from iodine to water to air. Together with the Air Force, Phase Four will demonstrate major new advantages that the Maxwell iodine-fueled engine can provide to large satellite constellations, including:

  • Vastly lower propellant costs
  • Increased satellite range and lifetime on orbit, due to the ability to store more fuel onboard, as iodine is 4x more dense than traditional xenon propellants
  • Lower risk of debris incidents, due to the elimination of high-pressure storage
  • Increased sustainability, due to the ability to decommission and responsibly dispose of satellites at their end of life

“Iodine is a promising propellant, due to its densely storable nature, lack of high-pressure components, and performance potential, compared to traditional noble gas propellants like xenon,“ said Phase Four CTO, Umair Siddiqui. “More efficient smallsat propulsion systems, such as an iodine RF thruster, will enable new missions in remote sensing, space surveillance, communications and other areas.“

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