Oct 11, 2017 | By Benedict

The EUTELSAT 172B satellite, built by Airbus for French satellite operator Eutelsat, has reached geostationary orbit, breaking the record for the fastest satellite electric orbit raising. The satellite contains 3D printed parts.

Launched from Kourou in French t on 1 June, the EUTELSAT 172B is impressive by virtue of its record-breaking status. But it’s also pretty exciting in other ways: robotic arms and 3D printing techniques were both used in the construction of the 172B, making it as futuristic as it is speedy.

“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,” commented Nicolas Chamussy, Head of Space Systems at Airbus.

Combining 13 kW of payload power with a launch mass of just 3,550 kg, the 172B is a variant on the Airbus Eurostar E3000 platform, modified for electric orbit raising.

After departing the Ariane 5 spacecraft, control of the satellite was taken over by Airbus for early operations, initialization, and deployment of the solar array and electric propulsion arms. The aerospace giant also carried out testing prior to the record-breaking electric orbit raising (EOR) phase, which began a week after launch on June 8.

The EOR phase lasted four months, during which the 172B’s electric thrusters propelled the satellite to the targeted orbit while using up almost six times less propellant than would be required for a chemical propulsion satellite.

It’s this electric power on the partially 3D printed satellite that’s made Airbus engineers particularly excited about its future satellites. “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,” Chamussy said.

EUTELSAT 172B is scheduled to enter commercial service in November, and its main beneficiaries will be those in the Asia-Pacific region, whose telecommunications, in-flight broadband, and broadcast services could be improved by the satellite.

This will all happen after completion of in-orbit tests, and after the 172B drifts to its operational location.

Once in action, the EUTELSAT system should have a lifespan of at least 15 years—longer than typical satellites of this type because of the 172B’s electric propulsion for in-orbit raising and station-keeping. That means frequent flyers can look forward to much more comfortable and entertaining journeys until at least 2032!

Excitingly from our perspective, 3D printing was used to make the 172B happen. Yohann Leroy, Eutelsat’s Chief Technical Officer, explained how such technologies have aided the satellite company.

“EUTELSAT 172B confirms the relevance of Eutelsat’s early adoption of electric propulsion technology to optimize [capital expenditure],” Leroy said. “In combining electric propulsion, high-throughput capacity, robotic arms, and 3D printing techniques, our new satellite also reflects Europe’s capability to push the envelope of innovation in order to increase the competitiveness of our business.”

Although the exact technical details are not known, it is confirmed that a bracket in the 172B was made using 3D printing.

In addition to additive manufacturing, two other innovations helped bring the 172B into orbit. The first, a pair deployable robotic arms, are used to orientate the satellite’s electric propulsion thrusters and control thrust direction during different phases of the mission. The second, the WALIS (Wide Angle Localisation Integrated System) network of ground stations around the world, enabled control of orbit raising operations until the satellite reached geostationary orbit.

The European Space Agency supported the development of the EUTELSAT 172B.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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