Electric propulsion: a solution for the future constellations of satellites
By 2022, a quarter of satellites in geostationary orbit will use electric propulsion. The principle behind this is that xenon ions are ejected from the engine by an electric and/or magnetic field powered by the satellite's solar panels. By using a gas like xenon as propellant, we can cut the satellites' weight in two.
Air Liquide supplies the gas, manufactures the satellites' filling cart and the xenon flow control system (XFS). We developed a micro-valve to regulate helium flow in ExoMars rover's chromatograph. The technology is being developed with the CNES to adapt it to the challenge of electric propulsion. Weighing just a few grams, these micro-flow regulators, which operate by thermal expansion, are a miniaturization challenge.
"The microvalves developed for ExoMars are perfectly leak-tight. We can't afford to lose a single molecule of Xenon. At tens of thousands of euros per normal cubic meter, it's vital.”