Satellite Uses 3D-Printed Parts, Robotics to Set Orbit-Raising Record

Robotic arms positioned the plasma thrusters during flight, optimizing the satellite's path so that it could reach full geostationary orbit in record time.

The fully electric EUTELSAT 172B telecommunications satellite just set the record for the shortest electric orbit raising (EOR) period, reaching full circular geostationary orbit just four months after its launch on June 1. Built by aeronautics company, Airbus, the satellite's performance is accredited to its lightweight construction and integration of 3D printed parts, along with its all-electric propulsion system that uses two robotic arms (shown below) to adjust its plasma thrusters during flight.

Before reaching orbit nearly 36,000 km above the Earth’s equator, the satellite was operated using a WALIS (Wide Angle Localisation Integrated System) network, which comprises several ground stations around the world developed by Airbus. It exhibits 13kW of payload power, and a launch mass of only 3,550 kg. Its lightweight construction was enabled using developments made during the construction of the latest EOR version of the Eurostar E3000 platform by Airbus. It is expected to last over 15 years in space.

“We are the first company to demonstrate full electric propulsion for satellites of this size and capacity, enabling their launch in the most cost-efficient manner,” says Nicolas Chamussy, Head of Space Systems at Airbus. “Furthermore, with our system design, operation strategy and the plasma thruster technology we implement, we have completed the fastest electric orbit raising ever from transfer to geostationary orbit, which will allow Eutelsat to put their electric satellite in service in a record time.” 

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