Space

In orbit, Exotrail displays miniature Hall-effect thrusters

Exotrail, a French start-up, declared on January 12 that its miniature Hall-effect thruster had exploded in orbit and fueled a NanoAvionics R2 cube to shift its semi-major axis by around 700 meters. David Henri, Exotrail’s CEO, informed SpaceNews, “It is among the smallest Hall thruster that has ever flown as well as a Hall thruster that flew just under 100 kilograms on a spacecraft for the first time.  For its exceptional level of efficiency, this kind of innovation is used on the large satellites. We introduce a degree of success to the universe of smaller satellites.”

Exotrail triggered ExoMG Hall-effect electrically powered system at the end of December and proved that it could adjust the altitude of the R2, a 6-unit cubesate deployed on the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle in the month of November. The Exotrail intends to blast the thruster in the next few months to illustrate collision-avoidance movements, reduce the satellite’s altitude, and adjust its inclination, Henri added. Exotrail consumers will opt for low-cost rideshare flights with the latest thruster and catapult themselves into their optimum orbits, Henri explained.

Exotrail is showcasing new flight applications on R2, dubbed ExoOPS, in addition to assessing ExoMG. Formed in 2017, Exotrail signed agreements worth over EUR 1 million ($1.2 million) in the year 2020 with consumers such as the French CNES space agency, the European Space Agency and AAC Clyde Space. In an investment session revealed in July, Exotrail has raised €11 million. Electric propulsion boosts efficiency and cuts the cost of launch. Exotrail specific proprietary technologies have enabled them to minimize the size of HETs (Hall-effect thruster) drastically to have a minimal effect on the mission as well as on the system. Exotrail is designing the industry’s highest thrust electric propulsion program, thereby significantly shortening it’s time to perform a propulsion flight. And we do so to mitigate the effect on the system while retaining a higher overall impulse density.

A Hall Effect Thruster (HET) is an ion thruster wherein electrons are held in the magnetic field produced by the cathode and then utilized to ionize propellant, making plasma in a plasma chamber. Thanks to the electric field produced between the anode and cathode, the plasma would then be intensified to achieve thrust. HET has been utilized for many decades and empowers most of the primary satellite thrusters. It blends a really high thrust-to-power proportion with the strong momentum of the electric propulsion technology. Exotrail is able to minimize the technology’s size to accommodate it in the small satellites thanks to specific developments throughout the plasma chamber, fluidic system and cathode. 

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