Space-tech startup Bellatrix Aerospace has test-fired India’s first privately built Hall Thruster, a highly efficient electric propulsion system.
The technology, originally demoed in Russia, is aimed at helping satellites manoeuvre in space and maintain proper orientation.
It is particularly suited for micro satellites weighing between 50kg to 500kg but can also be scaled for heavier payloads, the startup said, noting that the technology will also form a critical part of the OTV or space taxi technology it is building to deliver multiple satellites into space.
“The company has been working on this technology in stealth mode for the last four years to take it from the drawing board to qualification levels. Heaterless Cathode Technology is the key innovation that sets us apart from the competition by increasing life and redundancy of the system,” Rohan M Ganapathy, CEO and CTO at Bellatrix, said.
“We are also the first ones in the country to have designed it to operate efficiently at very low current levels,” he added.
Bellatrix, founded by Ganapathy and Yashas Karanam, has been working on electric propulsion systems for satellites since 2015.
Electric propulsion uses much less propellant than conventional chemical propulsion, which not only saves cost but also leaves more room for revenue-generating instruments such as transponders.
The startup believes this technology can offer satellite manufacturers enhanced efficiency with least 3x higher return on investment.
The Hall Thruster -- latest addition in Bellatrix’s electric propulsion portfolio -- was tested at the company’s Spacecraft Propulsion Research Laboratory set up at the 2,000-ft facility of Society for Innovation and Development (SID) at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).
It currently uses Xenon as fuel, although the company is exploring other proprietary propellants that could make the propulsion system even more compact and cost efficient.
“With this addition to our portfolio, we are in a position to offer best in class electric propulsion systems. We have designed this thruster with numerous considerations that make it an ideal engine to power the major satellite constellations that will be launched during this decade. It offers class-leading performance and life,” Ganapathy added.
Bellatrix Aerospace plans to launch the Hall Thruster on a space mission in the coming months and commercialize the technology by the end of this year. The company has also developed a Microwave Plasma Thruster, which uses water as fuel, and is on track to develop a green chemical propulsion system.
“Right now, the focus is mainly on getting our propulsion system to space and getting into actual sales,” Karanam said in an earlier interview with TechCircle. “2022 will mainly be about going global, going commercial on the propulsion technologies.”