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Electric Thruster Challenges Incumbents with High Performance

By | April 18, 2018

Phase Four’s thruster fires plasma in the test chamber. Photo: Phase Four.

Phase Four, a provider of electric Radio Frequency (RF) thrusters for in-space propulsion, announced the results of third party performance testing by The Aerospace Corporation. The testing found Phase Four’s second generation of RF thrusters achieved their best performance to date, demonstrating performance on par with today’s Hall Effect Thrusters (HETs) and a 3,000 percent efficiency increase over all existing RF plasma thrusters, the company stated.

The Phase Four CubeSat Class RF thruster tested by The Aerospace Corporation produced up to 3.3 mN of thrust at 700 seconds specific impulse. The improvements were six times greater than the proof-of-concept RFT-0 thruster. Phase Four believes the simple manufacturing process for the thruster makes it a strong candidate for a mass-produced engine for satellite mega-constellations.

“These results validate our vision: to increase access to space by producing a thruster that can be used by all satellites, while matching performance levels previously available only to huge and expensive spacecraft,” said M. Umair Siddiqui, Chief Scientist of Phase Four. “This sets a new bar for what can be achieved with these smaller electric thrusters, which offer high levels of power while eliminating many of the design and manufacturability issues — electrodes, complex electronics, and complex fabrication — which have plagued electric propulsion systems to date.”