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Plasma Propulsion Thrusters Used on Satellites.

Plasma propulsion is more than a quarter of a century old, and it has long been disregarded in the West. Although it was once judged to be too expensive, plasma propulsion has recently been given further consideration.

Plasma propulsion is a type of electric propulsion. It is particularly suitable for space because it does not require large amounts of liquid fuel, such as chemical propulsion. Instead, it uses xenon--a harmless inert gas--and electricity. This process is compatible because satellites are able to gain an abundance of electricity when their solar panels capture the sun's energy.

Plasma propulsion is beneficial because it can increase the payload or lifetime of satellites. The first European satellite to be equipped with plasma thrusters, called Stentor, will be launched at the beginning of 2001 by France's National Center for Space Research, Paris (www.cnes.fr). With four plasma thrusters, the lifetime of the satellite is expected to increase from more than 13 years to more than 19 years. This launch will help plasma propulsion become known.

Presently, plasma propulsion is limited to small thrusters that provide satellites altitude control, but the French aerospace engine constructor, SNECMA Moteurs, Villaroche, France (www.snecmamoteurs.com), is working on higher power engines that in five to 10 years could be placed on satellites in orbit. It may one day be possible to eliminate all liquid fuel on certain satellites, nearly doubling their payload, according to Pierre Dumazert, plasma propulsion manager at SNECMA Moteurs. Dumazert predicts plasma propulsion will reach its peak in five to 10 years.

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Comment:Plasma Propulsion Thrusters Used on Satellites.
Publication:R & D
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Words:257
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