April 12, 1961, marked the beginning of space adventures when Yuri Gagarin made his debut trip. Satellites were already making the rounds though; the Soviet Union released the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, on October 4, 1957. Since then, space has always been a subject of interest amongst many, but few can afford the privilege.
Richard Branson recently took off to the edge of space on his Virgin Galactic as did Jeff Bezos on the New Shepard rocket ship. For Jeff, this was a $5.5 billion trip that cemented his plans for starting a space business park. These trips are audacious so most of us will definitely stick to watching The Big Bang Theory or Marvel movies while chowing the 4 for $10 pizzas from the Meijer ad and imagining what eating a floating pizza is like in space.
Looking specifically into satellite technology, there’s been concern over the years that once the satellite has been launched, we cannot control or move it. One common problem that satellites have is that they lack mobility. In the words of Mr Jonathan Lun, “ Most satellites are simply computers tossed out the side of a rocket and tumbling in space”. Hypernova Space Technologies, an African firm, has, however, come up with the solution for that.
Hypernova Space Technologies has developed a thruster system that will make a turnaround in the operation of space satellites. The thruster system gives even the smallest of satellites known as CubeSats (10 cm cubes) to slightly larger ones known as nanosatellites which weigh around 10kgs, the ability to be mobile and move around. With these being a start for the thruster system, the firm has high hopes that the system will be developed further so as to accommodate larger satellites.
To fully maximise the thruster system, Hypernova has taken over a project that NASA didn’t fully pursue. In the firm’s research, they found that an electric reaction could be used to vaporize metal for fuel to create a jet of fast-moving plasma that propels the satellite along. The use of metal as fuel is favourable as pollution is minimized and no toxic gases are produced.
It is recorded that there are approximately 3,200 nanosatellites that are in orbit. These satellites are just there floating freely. In addition to those nanosatellites, plans are being made by SpaceX to launch as many as 42,000 satellites. It is with no doubt that this blast in figures will cause problems. Because these satellites are freelancers and don’t have the ability to have their motion-controlled, chances of collisions are very high. The satellites that would have collided will cause space debris which in turn will hinder future missions.
Therefore, Hypernova’s thruster system will help in manoeuvring satellites out of each other’s way. In addition to this, retrieving and disposing of satellites that have exhausted their working life would be made easier.
It was confirmed by the firm’s manager that the thruster system was tested under some of the most extreme conditions including in a vacuum, under extreme temperatures and in high vibration conditions. This was to test the efficiency of the developed system.
Hypernova is not alone in the development of this new technology. The firm has the backing of investors that include EnduroSat in Bulgaria, MIT in the US, European Space Agency and South Africa’s very own Electrical and Electronic Engineering department at Stellenbosch University. With such a strong backup, the project is expected to launch in early 2022.