March 28, 2023

Taylor Daily Press

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Pale Blue is a water propulsion satellite

Japan’s Pale Blue has been selected by Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Agency (NEDO) for its SBIR enhancement program for fiscal year 2022. Pale Blue is working under the program to further develop a water vapor-based propulsion system for use in small satellites that are part of constellations large satellite.

The Pale Blue Program is an offshoot of the University of Tokyo. The company is focused on developing water vapor-based propulsion systems for satellites. It is based on research conducted by the University of Tokyo and the Japanese space agency JAXA.

SBIR stands for Small Business Innovation Research and is a program that promotes research and development-oriented startups that contribute to solving societal problems and foster creativity and innovation. NEDO’s SBIR Promotion Program is part of the Japanese SBIR System, a Japanese government initiative that spans several government ministries and agencies.

The demand for satellite towers is growing rapidly

The demand for satellite towers is growing rapidly. This is due in part to the increased use of satellite services for monitoring purposes and to achieve high bandwidth optical communications. To date, however, there has been no safe and relatively cheap propulsion with enough thrust for small satellites, Pale Blue reports.

So, the Japanese startup is working on a new type of satellite engine, based on water vapor. This technology includes an ionic and neutral source, a high-voltage power supply, and innovative thermal design. The combination results in a cheap ion engine that uses water vapor as fuel, which is safe, easy to operate and suitable for satellites weighing up to 100kg, Pale Blue reports.

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Not new

Push technology has been in development for quite some time. For example, NASA launched the EQULEUS from JAXA and the University of Tokyo in November last year using the Space Launch System (SLS). EQULEUS is a Nano Reconnaissance spacecraft that has now successfully completed its first maneuver with a water vapor propulsion.

This propulsion was developed by the University of Tokyo’s Koizumi Laboratory under the direction of Jun Asakawa, who later co-founded Pale Blue with Hiroyuki Koizumi (CTO), Kazuya Yaginuma, and Yuichi Nakagawa. The startup talks about “the world’s first successful orbital maneuver outside of low-Earth orbit using water vapor as fuel.”

On the way to EML2

EQULEUS uses the propulsion system to get into the correct orbit, make minor corrections to its trajectory, and determine its altitude once it passes by the Moon. The vehicle is now successfully on its way to Earth-Moon Lagrangian point 2 (EML2), a journey expected to take about a year and a half.

“It is a great milestone for Pale Blue that its water vapor propulsion system successfully operated in space for the first time globally and established its orbit beyond low Earth orbit,” said Jun Asakawa, CEO and co-founder of Pale Blue. “We continue to work on the social implementation of water vapor propulsion and the creation of mobility opportunities that are essential to the aviation industry.”

Four engines

Pale Blue develops the water vapor engine used by EQULEUS. The company provides four water engines:

  • ResistoJet Thruster Mini (1.0mN thrust, rated at 9W and compact dimensions of 9 x 9.5 x 5cm)
  • ResistoJet Thruster motor (1.0 mN thrust, 20 W power and dimensions 9 x 9.5 x 10.5 cm)
  • Hybrid motor (4.0mN / 150μN, 40W power, 9 x 12 x 16cm dimensions)
  • Ion Thruster (170µm thrust, rated at 40W and dimensions 10 x 10 x 10cm)
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Pale Blue also announced earlier this year that it would supply a water vapor engine for a Sony nanosatellite. This satellite is part of the Sony STAR SPHERE project. This project aims to change people’s perspective about space, where technology plays an important role. The project aims to create opportunities for people by nurturing their ideas about the global environment and social issues by observing the Earth from space.

More information here Available.

Author: Wouter Hoeffnagel
Photo: PIRO via Pixabay