A low-cost helicon propulsion system to boost small satellite missions

M. Manente, F. Trezzolani, A. Selmo, E. Fantino, G. Mistè, E. Toson, D. Pavarin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The market of small satellites for educational, institutional and commercial purposes is in rapid growth. In order to allow different mission scenarios, small satellite platforms down to Cubesat Units need versatile, low-cost, compact and reliable propulsion systems. The University of Padua has worked in the promising Helicon Plasma propulsion technology for small down to multi-Unit satellite applications since January 2009, under the HPH.com FP7 Project consortium coordinated by the University of Padua and comprising 15 partners from EU nations and 2 ICPC countries1. The main features of the helicon thruster are (i) a simple architecture consisting in a discharge chamber, an antenna and a magnetic field generator, (ii) no need for neutralizer and grids, (iii) no need for the PPU to provide high DC output. Thanks to these features, the overall propulsion system allows sensible cost reductions and long lifetimes. Furthermore, the system is versatile since it allows to use different types of gases, which makes it a good candidate to satisfy current small satellite propulsion needs. T4i, the Spin-Off of the University of Padua founded by its Space Propulsion group, is currently developing a complete and compact propulsion system based on a Mini Helicon Plasma Thruster (mHPT) and with satellite standard data and power. The mHPT propulsion system fits in a 10x10x10 cm volume, depending on the needed propellant tank volume. Thanks to these features, the system will allow to perform orbital variations, station-keeping maneuvers, orbit maintenance, orbit transfers, orbit raising and decommissioning. The low cost of such system is fundamental to permit also to small and low budget satellite to perform innovative or unconventional types of mission. Moreover, thanks to its characteristic long lifetimes, it will enable new mission scenarios as well as new deep space small spacecraft missions.

Original languageBritish English
Title of host publication68th International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2017
Subtitle of host publicationUnlocking Imagination, Fostering Innovation and Strengthening Security
PublisherInternational Astronautical Federation, IAF
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)9781510855373
StatePublished - 2017
Event68th International Astronautical Congress: Unlocking Imagination, Fostering Innovation and Strengthening Security, IAC 2017 - Adelaide, Australia
Duration: 25 Sep 201729 Sep 2017

Publication series

NameProceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC
ISSN (Print)0074-1795


Conference68th International Astronautical Congress: Unlocking Imagination, Fostering Innovation and Strengthening Security, IAC 2017


  • Helicon propulsion
  • Micro satellite
  • Plasma propulsion
  • Radio frequency


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