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China applies electric propulsion technology to newly launched satellite

Updated: Apr 14,2017 9:36 AM     Xinhua

LANZHOU — An ion thruster independently developed by Chinese researchers has been applied to China’s newly launched high-throughput communications satellite, the country’s first.

The satellite, named Shijian-13, was launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Southwest China’s Sichuan province at 7:04 pm on April 12.

Shijian-13 is the first Chinese satellite to be propelled by electricity, potentially improving efficiency by as much as 10 times compared with those that use chemicals as propellant, extending the satellite’s life and reducing the launch weight.

The Lanzhou Institute of Physics started to develop the ion thruster for Shijian-13 in March 2011 and finished the development in April 2016.

The ion thruster can change solar energy, which is inexhaustible for space craft, to jet energy to create thrust so the satellite can complete a series of maneuvers, according to Zhang Weiwen, director of the institute.

Applied with electric propulsion technology, the satellite does not need to carry as much chemical fuel, and the ion thruster is capable of precise localization in outer space, Zhang said.

It is the first time that China has applied electric propulsion technology on a communications satellite, said Zhang Tianping, general manager of the electric propulsion business division under the Lanzhou Institute of Physics.

Shijian-13 has a higher message capacity than all of China’s previous communications satellites combined and will provide better internet access in less-developed regions, as well as on planes and high-speed trains.

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