PARIS — Europe’s BepiColombo satellite mission to Mercury will be propelled by new-generation ion-electric thrusters built by Qinetiq of Britain under a contract with BepiColombo prime contractor Astrium Satellites, Qinetiq announced Sept. 2.
Under the contract, valued at 23 million British pounds ($37.4 million), Farnborough, England-based Qinetiq will provide four T6 ion thrusters for BepiColombo, which is being built for the European Space Agency () and scheduled for launch in 2014.
The contract follows the successful in-orbit demonstration of Qinetiq’s smaller T5 ion thrusters aboard ESA’s GOCE gravity-field-measuring satellite, which was launched in March. ESA officials have said Qinetiq’s ion thrusters, which had never before flown in space, have performed to specification.
Qinetiq said its ion thrusters are 10 times more efficient than traditional chemical thrusters used on satellites.
Qinetiq Chief Executive Graham Love said the BepiColombo work is the largest space-hardware contract ever won by the company. He said he hopes to sell the thrusters for future deep-space missions and in the commercial communications satellite market as well.