A new generation of satellites propelled by solar electric thrusters will be developed by (European Space Agency) ESA following the signing of a new contract.
The space agency has signed a contract with satellite operator SES, of Luxembourg, to move to the next phase of the Electra project – a partnership between ESA and SES to develop and validate in space an electric-only propulsion platform for geostationary telecommunication satellites of about three tonnes launch mass.
It is hoped that the use of electric-only propulsion for orbit raising and stationkeeping will help reduce fuel consumption and reduce launch mass by up to 40 per cent, allowing payloads to be twice as large or the use of smaller launch vehicles.
Satellite builder OHB Systems has partnered with SES for the development of Electra, and the German firm hopes to extend its portfolio of telecom satellite platforms by adding a fully electric version to its Small GEO product line.
The Electra project encompasses both the development of the platform and the flight of a mission defined by the satellite operator. The mission will be selected in 2014 and the first launch is expected by the end of 2018.
Magali Vaissiere, ESA’s Director of Telecommunication and Integrated Applications, said: “We are adapting our tools to best support the competitiveness of our satellite telecommunication industry.
“Electra is the first example of our Partner programme, where we are consolidating the model of partnerships with the private sector to help the introduction and adoption of innovative efficient solutions proposed by our industry.”
Electra is the first partnership project established under ESA’s ARTES-33 programme, which supports market-driven innovations from industry that are required to prove that they work in space so they can be more readily embraced by the marketplace.
ARTES-33 requires a partnership between a manufacturer and a user of the innovative capabilities to prove that the innovation is validated in a commercially realistic environment.
Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General, attending the signing of the contract at SES in Luxembourg, said: “Electra represents three partnerships in one: between SES and OHB, to develop the best solution for SES and the future needs of other satellite operators; between SES and ESA, to offer the best possible validation in orbit of a new technology; and between ESA and DLR (The German Aerospace Centre) to capitalise on previous investments.
“These three partnerships is the best way to optimise the use of public and private funds for enhancing the competitiveness of the European sector."
Rolf Densing, Director of ESA Space Programmes at DLR, said: “Electra is a good example of the kind of cooperation we are seeking with ESA in the area of telecommunications. It maximises the outcome for German industry in terms of potential commercial exploitation.
“At the same time, Electra imposes a rigorous framework on all the parties involved, derived from the high commercial stakes. With Electra we continue our strategy to establish a prime for small telecommunication satellites in Germany.”