Satellite propulsion has been receiving much deserved attention. Not to be confused with chemical launch propulsion, satellite propulsion is primarily electrical propulsion that optimizes the satellite’s orbit once launched, maintains that orbit despite gravitational pulls and, finally, helps to assure a safe de-orbit. Electric propulsion uses an electric or a magnetic reaction or magnetic fields to heat or electrify a gas and turn that into a plasma, which, when forced out of the satellite, creates thrust.
Beau Jarvis, CEO at Phase Four (plasma is the 4th state of matter) explains that while electric systems today typically use aerospace grade xenon because of its efficiency, it is also very expensive. With the anticipated growth in small satellites the cost of xenon will only increase. Phase Four, Jarvis explains, can use actually any neutral gas as fuel. The implication? Rather than transporting propulsion fuel from Earth, something as simple as water vapor, atmospheric nitrogen or methane, all available in space, could work as a propellant for Phase Four propulsion systems, thereby extending the satellite’s useful life.