HIPATIA (HelIcon PlasmA Thruster for In-Space Applications) is a European project that aims to verify the function and the performance of an electromagnetic plasma propulsion system for its application in non-geostationary satellites and other small spacecrafts. The project relies on the Helicon Plasma Thruster (HPT), a technology that can offer a good level of performance while reducing the manufacture costs.
To achieve this goal, the HIPATIA team will focus on:
- Developing the HPT technology to fit market needs: this will include assessing the performance of the HPT and analysing the impact of the technology in the Space platform.
- Improving the performance of the HPT: the HIPATIA team will perform key research and testing activities for this goal.
- Raising the technology readiness level (TRL): HIPATIA aims to bring the HPT and its associated technologies to TRL6, designing the units and interfaces that will support the HPT.
- Planning for higher TRLs and industrialisation: the project will assess the further development needed for full qualification for flight and will deliver a business plan.
To achieve our goals, we will follow these steps:
The HPT technology aims to revolutionize the space market that is rising nowadays. Its conceptual simplicity and the absence of expensive components bring along several advantages that drastically reduce the manufacture costs of small spacecrafts.
Tackling the challenges of today
In the short term, the HIPATIA innovation could change the paradigm for satellite internet. There is a growing demand for faster broader internet connections that large fleets of small satellites in non-geostationary orbits (LEO) could fulfil. However, this solution would require a large number of satellites. This situation asks for mass manufacturing and cost-capped equipment. The HPT can provide them, thanks to its simple and robust design.
Preparing for the future
In the long term, any spatial mission could benefit from the HIPATIA technology.
- The variety of propellants that the HPT can use could pave the way for applications in VLEO (200-400 km) for orbit observation or scientific missions such as geodesy.
- In-orbit servicing and exploration missions, where high lifetimes and Isp are required. The electrodeless design of the HPT ensures a long operation while still maintain high Isp when compared to chemical propulsion systems.
- Telecommunications geostationary satellites, where orbit raising with EP is interesting as it reduces propellant consumption.