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Furukawa Electric, JAXA Working to Reduce Weight and Cost of Next-generation Hall Thrusters

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
March 16, 2021
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TOKYO (JAXA PR) — Furukawa Electric Co., Ltd. (Headquarters: Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, President: Keiichi Kobayashi, hereinafter “Furukawa Electric”) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Headquarters: Chofu City, Tokyo, Chairman: Hiroshi Yamakawa, under the “JAXA Space Innovation Partnership (J-SPARC) (*1)”, “JAXA”) have started co-creation activities through the development of power sources for next-generation electric propulsion machines (Hall thrusters) for small satellites.

In the global artificial satellite market, demand for small satellite earth observation missions and means of constructing communication infrastructure is increasing year by year. Since small satellites can be developed at lower cost and in a shorter period of time than large satellites, space-related venture companies can easily enter the market, and it is a business field where expansion of space utilization is expected.

This time, we solved the problem by utilizing consumer technology for the power supply, which is a component device, toward “lightening and cost reduction of the next-generation Hall thruster of small satellites”, which was one of the technical problems. Specifically, JAXA has built a compact and lightweight power supply technology based on the thermal design technology and winding design technology that Furukawa Denko has cultivated in the development of consumer products, and research on GaN (gallium nitride) power devices.

By combining the research and development results such as discharge control technology under the space environment that we have cultivated, we aim to acquire the elemental technologies related to weight reduction and cost reduction that will be required in the future.

Furukawa Denko aims to develop into satellite constellations (*2) such as earth observation and communication fields , in-orbit demonstration (target) in 2025, and commercialization of next-generation Hall thruster power supply after 2026. 

JAXA will study the application of consumer technology to space, and will also explore its applicability to next-generation Hall thrusters that will support future JAXA missions.

Number of small artificial satellites launched with a weight of 500 kg or less in the world. (Credit: Furukawa Electric based on Cabinet Office materials)

Types of artificial satellite propulsion machines: “chemical propulsion” and “electric propulsion”

There are two types of artificial satellite propulsion machines, “chemical propulsion” using fuel and “electric propulsion” using electric energy. Hall thrusters are in the latter category, and have higher thrust in electric propulsion than chemical propulsion. It has the feature of saving fuel. JAXA is conducting research and development on 1kW class Hall thrusters, but at the sites of artificial satellite development around the world, there is a demand for a power source that is lighter and can be driven at lower cost.


*1 “JAXA Space Innovation Partnership (J-SPARC)”: Beginning with a dialogue between private businesses aiming for space business and JAXA, with the commitment of both sides toward commercialization, jointly studying business concepts and aiming for exits It is a program to create a new business by developing and demonstrating the technology of. It started in May 2018 and is currently working on about 20 projects. In business concept co-creation, activities such as market research and examination of business concept are carried out, and in business joint demonstration, activities such as joint feasibility study before commercialization and joint technology development / demonstration are carried out.

*2 Satellite constellation: A satellite group / system consisting of multiple artificial satellites that are systematically integrated. Constellation means “constellation”.

Role Sharing of Co-creation Activities

Furukawa Electric: Commercialization and business development of power supply for Hall thrusters utilizing the technology cultivated in consumer (examination of exhaust heat design for spacecraft, examination of thermal control device design, trial production of power supply design / transformer, examination of overall power supply design)

JAXA: Formulation of power supply specifications considering actual load characteristics, evaluation of combination with Hall thrusters, problem extraction and business development support for space application of consumer technology

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