Swiss Pioneer Motor Aimed at Slashing Satellite Launch Costs

March 29, 2012
Innovative mini-motors and ionic fuel could make launches up to 10 times cheaper, ushering in 'a new era of low-cost space exploration.'

Swiss researchers said March 29 they have built a mini-motor which they claim could slash the costs of satellite launches by 10 times, ushering in "a new era of low-cost space exploration."

Scientists at the Federal Polytechnic of Lausanne (EPFL) have built the first prototype of the motor weighing just seven ounces and which runs on an "ionic" liquid -- a chemical compound rather than traditional fuel.

The motor generates thrust through a process in which ions are extracted from the liquid compound and ejected through an electric field.

Designed for small satellites, the motor could make satellite launches 10 times cheaper, an EPFL spokesman told AFP.

A mini-satellite using the motor would have a cruising speed of about 26,000 miles per hour.

"We calculated that in order to reach lunar orbit, a 2.2 pound nanosatellite with our motor would travel for about six months and consume three ounces of fuel," said Muriel Richard, a scientist in EPFL's Swiss Space Center.

Space's vacuum cleaner CleanSpace One would be the first satellite to be equipped with the motor.

Scientists have a year to complete the nanosatellite which would grab debris and put it into the Earth's orbit for incineration.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012

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