SAN FRANCISCO – In-space propulsion specialist Busek revealed its role in helping OneWeb recover from the sudden loss of Fakel satellite thrusters after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Natick, Massachusetts-based Busek announced Feb. 6 the successful on-orbit commissioning of its BHT-350 Hall-effect thrusters on 80 OneWeb satellites launched in December and January on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. The new OneWeb communications satellites rely on Busek thrusters for orbit-raising, station-keeping, collision avoidance and de-orbit at the conclusion of each satellite’s mission.

“We have been going gangbusters since our phone started ringing in late February,” Peter Hruby, Busek vice president, told SpaceNews.

Airbus OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture of OneWeb and Airbus Defence and Space, manufactures OneWeb communications satellites in Florida. Prior to the war in Ukraine, Airbus OneWeb Satellites purchased thrusters from Russia-based electric propulsion company EDB Fakel and Busek. When Western sanctions to penalize Russia for its invasion of Ukraine prevented OneWeb from buying Fakel thrusters, Busek increased production.  

“We ramped-up our manufacturing and supply chain to begin double-digit thruster deliveries within a few months of order,” Busek President Vlad Hruby said in a statement.  “We’re at a production rate of over 20 thrusters per month with 100 percent hot-fire acceptance testing.”

Busek BHT-350 solar electric thruster hot-fire testing. Credit: Busek

Busek has the necessary infrastructure including vacuum facilities and diagnostic equipment to “not just build thrusters in that quantity, but also test them,” Peter Hruby said.

The OneWeb order is one of the reasons Busek doubled its production capacity.

“And we’re planning to triple that capacity to meet certain near-term programs,” Vlad Hruby added.

The OneWeb satellites launched in December and January also are providing flight heritage for Busek’s BHT-350 solar electric propulsion systems.

The BHT-350 is compatible with xenon and krypton propellants. Busek also is developing a solid-propellant thruster.

In addition to Busek is producing 6-kilowatt Hall-effect thrusters for the NASA lunar Gateway Power and Propulsion Element being built by Maxar Technologies.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...