Outta Space! Europe’s first electric propulsion satellite to use Polish technology

Europe's first electric propulsion satellite will be built using technology designed by Polish engineers. ESA

Europe’s first electric propulsion satellite will be built using technology designed by Polish engineers.

Electric propulsion uses electrical power to accelerate the satellite, rather than conventional chemical thrusters. It requires less mass, meaning that lighter satellites can be launched, which reduces mission costs.

“Since the new century, the constantly increasing levels of electrical power on new developed spacecraft allows Electric Propulsion to be a very realistic and serious alternative to chemical propulsion, and the use of this technology for different type of missions is already a common practice internationally,” the European Space Agency (ESA) explains on its website.

The first Electra satellite is expected to launch in 2023.ESA

Now ESA is working on its first electric propelled satellite: Electra, which will support the European satellite industry. Despite its lower mass, it will offer the power consumption and communication capabilities of a larger mid-size satellites. The first Electra satellite is expected to launch in 2023.

Polish company SENER Polska will design and produce the equipment for installing the new satellites. It was awarded the contract by European multinational technology corporation OHB, the main contractor of the Electra programme.

Polish company SENER Polska will design and produce the equipment for installing the new satellites.ESA

“This is one of the first large commercial contracts won on the free market in our country. In addition, it applies to a commercial satellite, which can be produced in larger numbers, rather than a single scientific one,” said Ilona Tobjasz, director of development at SENER Polska.

Assembly support devices are used to help satellites move precisely. They are a challenge for engineers because they have to be adapted to satellites’ specificities. Complex constructions made up of thousands of parts, they can weigh from several hundred to several thousand kilograms.

Ilona Tobjasz, director of development at SENER Polska, said: 'This is one of the first large commercial contracts won on the free market in our country. In addition, it applies to a commercial satellite, which can be produced in larger numbers, rather than a single scientific one.'SENER

The equipment designed by SENER’s engineers in Poland will hold together volatile panels while the Electra satellite is assembled, ensuring that this can be done safely. The company will also provide a vertical base to support the satellite while the panels are being installed.

This is not the first time that SENER Polska is working with ESA: last year, it provided it with devices for the Euclid, a separate mission aiming to map the geometry of the dark universe. For that project, it worked with a network of 18 Polish companies that produced components, tested them and were responsible for logistics.