China to launch its first electric propulsion communication satellite by 2020


China is reportedly planning to launch its first electric propulsion communication satellite into orbit in around 2020.

The new satellite will mark China's foray into the international electric propulsion communication satellite market.

With this development, the country will join the US, Russia, Europe and Japan, which have already mastered the technology.

China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) communication satellite deputy chief designer Wang Min was quoted by Xinhua as saying that the satellite is designed to provide broadband communication services to China, and neighbouring regions.

Considered to be one of the cutting-edge space technologies, electric propulsion is capable of sending humans into deep space at a lower cost than other forms of propulsion.

"The technology uses a tenth of the propellant required by conventional systems, and helps increase the operational life of satellites."

The technology uses a tenth of the propellant required by conventional systems, and helps increase the operational life of satellites to 20 years.

"The weight of the satellite can be greatly decreased, so a rocket can send two satellites into orbit at the same time; or we can launch a cheap, small rocket to carry the satellite, which will greatly save on launch costs," Wang added.

"We can also put more equipment on the satellite to improve its functions."

China is currently working on a hybrid propulsion communication satellite and plans to launch it at the end of 2016.

Electric propulsion systems are primarily offered as the ion thruster or hall thruster variants.

The electric thrusters developed by China currently generate up to 5kW, and by the end of the decade, CAST plans to build 50kW electric thrusters.

According to industry experts, a group of 40 50kW electric thrusters will be required to carry 300t spacecraft to Mars in 200 days.

"Electric propulsion technology will play an important role especially in manned deep space exploration," Wang said.