Even though there are some 3400 active satellites already in orbit, thirst for the capabilities that they provide continues almost unquenched. 8600 small satellites are scheduled for launch over the next decade, while the market for medium to large satellites is expected to reach $234B in 2028. Key drivers for satellite demand include earth imaging and observation as well as telecommunications and internet connectivity.
Once placed into orbit, maintenance of orbital position is critical for continued function of the satellites for their intended purpose. For this reason, satellites are equipped with thrusters which are periodically fired to maintain their position in orbit. Hydrazine is the most commonly employed propellant for satellite thrusters, and while energetic, it is highly hazardous and requires specialized loading and handling procedures. Satellites utilizing hydrazine cannot be loaded with propellant until they are on the launch pad, and skilled technicians protected by SCAPE suits are required for the loading operation. While Hydrazine is nominally priced at $100/pound, the specialized requirements for loading add substantially to propellant cost and create logistical headaches.
For these reasons, propulsion system suppliers are turning towards greener propellant systems that will not require specialized handling, and allow the satellite to be loaded with a propellant system while it is being built. As such, the satellite is fully configured for launch and can be immediately placed in the payload delivery section of the launch vehicle without waiting for propellant to be loaded on the pad.
Hydrogen is a leading candidate for use as a satellite propellant, and it can be produced on demand while the satellite is in orbit by the electrolysis of water using PEM Electrolyzers. However, this requires a water tank and pump, which adds undesirable system weight and size.
To address these issues, Giner has developed a proprietary static water vapor feed PEM Electrolyzer which operates at high pressure and greatly reduces the requirements for additional system components. This results in substantially lower system weight and size, enabling hydrogen propulsion systems that fit within the space and weight constraints of even small satellites. Our system has been successfully fired by major producers of satellite thrusters and propulsion systems.