Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning to use electric or ion propulsion to power satellite boosters and launch vehicles.

By using electric propulsion, ISRO aims to boost its launch vehicles’ payload capability and life span of the satellite. The agency plans to launch the first satellites with electric propulsion in 2017.

The liquid fuel currently used to power a spacecraft accounts for a third of the weight of the satellite, while electric propulsion can be lighter than liquid fuelled satellites.

Solar energy powered electric propulsion is also said to be ten times more capable than the liquid propulsion system.

ISRO chairman A S Kiran Kumar was quoted by Business Standard saying: "Using electric propulsion, we can send a four tonne satellite, which is equivalent to a six tonne satellite.

"Instead of chemical fuel, we save on weight and pack it with more transponders.

"With electric propulsion, we can add more transponders into space on our own."

ISRO is currently developing a powerful rocket called GSLV Mk-III, which is capable of carrying communication satellites weighing four tonnes. The GSLV rocket, which is used and developed by the agency in its space missions, can carry satellites weighing two tonnes only.

"With electric propulsion, we can add more transponders into space on our own."

India has been trying to use electric propulsion for a long time, but has been unable to test the technology since 2010. During the test, a GSLV rocket blew up soon after launch and destroyed an experimental satellite GSAT-4.

Various units of ISRO are currently developing electric propulsion technology, which will be tested in a GSAT communication satellite.

Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) director K Sivan was quoted by the New Indian Express saying: "Our plan is to experiment it on the GSAT-9 communication satellite during March / April 2017.

"Initially, electric propulsion will be used only for the station keeping of the satellite, which includes adjusting the satellite’s orbit."

ISRO-affiliated VSSC is involved in the Indian space agency’s project to develop a green propulsion.

Sivan said: "This will enable us to increase the life of the satellite by at least four years and to have more applications aboard a satellite.

"At present, the life of a 2,000kg-2,500kg communication satellite of the GSAT class is ten to 12 years."

The green monopropellant, currently under development, will use ammonium dinitramide, hydrogen peroxide and hydroxyl ammonium nitrate (HAN) as a replacement for hydrazine.

Image: Electric propulsion helps to boost launch vehicles’ payload capability. Photo: courtesy of ISRO.