Ariane 5 Arianespace VA237
Arianespace's Ariane 5 launch of ViaSat-2 and Eutelsat-172b completed all missions set back by protests in French Guiana. Credit: Arianespace livestream.

LONDON — Eutelsat’s newest satellite reached its target position in the geostationary orbit this week only four months after its launch, setting an industry record for the fastest all electric orbit-raising.

Eutelsat-172b was launched June 1 along with Viast-2 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.

The satellite’s builder Airbus said the record time had been achieved thanks to a set of innovations including a pair of deployable robotic arms that orientate the satellite’s Hall thrusters allowing better control of the thrust direction and attitude during different phases of the mission.

The orbit raising has been conducted by Airbus using the firm’s Wide Angle Localisation Integrated System (WALIS) global network of ground stations, which enabled engineers to control the orbit-raising operations until the satellite reached geostationary orbit.

Eutelsat-172b is the first all-electric satellite in orbit built by Airbus. Previously, electric orbit-raising has been used on four smaller and lighter craft built by Airbus’s U.S. competitor Boeing. Orbit-raising of those satellites took between six to seven months.

Even with the current record electric orbit-raising is still considerably slower than using chemical propulsion. According to Airbus, a chemical propulsion system would have taken Eutelsat-172b to its target position in a week. However, Airbus spokesman Guilhem Boltz said the European aerospace manufacturer sees clear advantages in using electric propulsion.

“If Eutelsat-172b had used chemical propulsion, it would have required nearly 2 tons more of propellant, increasing the volume and the mass of the satellite, and consequently the cost of the launch,” Boltz said. “Electric propulsion takes longer, but in-orbit costs less.”

Airbus has been using electric propulsion on telecom satellites for station-keeping since 2004, according to Boltz.

Eutelsat-172b is the first of six high power all-electric satellites that have been ordered from Airbus to date, said Boltz. Five other spacecraft are currently in construction with SES-12 and SES-14 expected to be delivered to the customer next month.

Tereza Pultarova is a London-based science and technology journalist and video producer, covering European space developments for SpaceNews. A native of the Czech Republic, she has a bachelors degree in journalism from the Charles University,...