May 24, 2022

Singapore company launches more fuel-efficient satellite

It’s not just the Brazilian satellite that SpaceX took to space. The mission carrier-3, carried out last week, also launched a satellite from the Earth startup Aliena, which has a more efficient fuel system than the propellant mixtures known today.

The company, a spin-off from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, uses a Hall propulsion engine, which uses plasma driven by an electric current. The technology was an invention of Aliena itself and, according to the company, consumes “only a fraction” of the energy required for this type of operation.

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Aliena co-founders George-Cristian Potrivitu (CTO, left) and Mark Lim Jian Wei (CEO, right): Experts have developed a new, more fuel-efficient satellite propulsion system (Image: Aliena/ Handout)

Each satellite needs an acceleration engine. Even those stationed in a fixed position in Earth’s orbit usually launch thrusters to correct orientation or stay on the specified course in the event of a deviation. This is because Earth’s atmosphere still has considerable force to pull them out without these resources, causing them to undergo atmospheric re-entry and, in the best-case scenario, be incinerated upon falling (the worst-case scenario is that they fall back and reach the ground – a populated city, for example).

In the past, satellites weighed tons and were immense in size, but technological evolution has allowed the miniaturization we know in computer processors to reach them as well – and today we have the CubeSat as an example, which normally have a square format (10x10x10x10 centimeters) and they weigh just over two kilograms (2 kg).

However, current Hall thrusters are not suitable for small satellites, as they need about a thousand watts (W) to keep objects in orbit – this volume of energy is intended exclusively for larger satellites.

For this reason, the solution developed by Aliena “covers” this hole in an elegant and functional way, since it requires only 10 W of power, and its design facilitates its use in satellites, with proportions of up to 10x10x10x10 cm – because it is, the comparison with CubeSat had something to do with it.

The company accomplished the feat by using the properties of plasma propulsion, one of the four fundamental states of matter, which can exert motion with force on the scale of micronewtons – in comparative terms, the same amount of force an ant expends to walk a few steps.

“As the space industry continues to grow exponentially and rapidly, Aliena wants to meet a growing demand for mobility in space with our plasma engines,” said Dr. Mark Lim Jian Wei, co-founder and CEO of the company.

« [O espaço] it used to be a nascent market, but we’ve seen a sudden explosion of space tech companies formed to capitalize on the profitability of small satellites and accessibility to space to launch their own constellations, which are sure to happen to impact terrestrial and extraterrestrial enterprises.” , he continued.

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