The First All-Electrical Thruster – the IVO Quantum Drive – is Headed to Space!
One of the most exciting aspects of the current era of space exploration (Space Age 2.0) is how time-honored ideas are finally being realized. Some more well-known examples include retrievable and reusable rockets, retrieval at sea, mid-air retrieval, single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) rockets, and kinetic launch systems. In addition, there are also efforts to develop propulsion systems that do not rely on conventional propellants. This technology offers many advantages, including lower mass and improved energy efficiency, ultimately leading to lower costs.
On June 10th, 2023, an all-electrical propulsion system for satellites (the IVO Quantum Drive) will fly to space for the first time. This new technology is the creation of North Dakota-based company IVO, Ltd., a leading developer of wireless power and capacitive-based technologies. The engine will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as part of a dedicated rideshare (Transporter 8) hosted by commercial partner Rogue Space Systems. Pending a successful demonstration of the technology, the Quantum Drive will become a regular part of the commercialization of Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
Founded in 2017 by Richard Mansell, Ken Mansell, Daniel Telehey, and Matthew Silbernagel, IVO was launched with a vision of addressing the major issues facing technology and innovation today. It is no secret that the world is currently undergoing a major transition in terms of energy, transport, manufacturing, and infrastructure. In addition to advancements in computing, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence, a major driving force behind these changes is the desire for cleaner, more sustainable alternatives.
This has led to innovations like wireless internet and devices, electric cars, EV charging stations, and miniaturized solar cells and wind turbines. Unfortunately, these innovations rely on toxic batteries and unsafe charging technologies. To this end, IVO has focused its efforts on developing wireless energy transmission solutions using a technology known as Capacitive Based Aerial Transmission (CBAT). This flexible, scalable technology allows manufacturers to reduce their battery size by up to 50% and is on track to disrupt the green energy industry.
In addition, the past decade has seen an explosion in the number of commercial space companies, leading to innovations like reusable rockets and microsatellites. Because of this, space has become far more accessible, with more nations, companies, and academic institutions sending payloads to orbit. Alas, the space industry is still reliant on propellants that are toxic (or produce toxic byproducts) or produce huge amounts of greenhouse gas. Using kerosene and methane-based fuels, rocket launches can release up to 100 times more CO2 into the atmosphere (per passenger) than a long-distance flight.
In 2021, through a combination of mathematics and empirical test data, Mansell realized that pure electric thrust is viable for spacecraft. These efforts led to the IVO Quantum Drive, the world’s first commercially viable, completely electric propulsion system. The technology provides multiple advantages over conventional propellants, the most notable of which is extreme efficiency. A single Quantum Drive can achieve up to 52 millinewtons (mN) of thrust from a single watt of electricity supplied via a combination of onboard power storage and solar power.
This is a considerable improvement over Hall-Effect thrusters (ion engines), which can achieve 25–250 mN of thrust, have lower energy efficiency (65-80%), and require more power – 1–7 kilowatts (kW). What’s more, the modular design of the Quantum Drive allows multiple units to be stacked (and on multiple axes) to achieve greater thrust and meet the needs of individual spacecraft. On top of that, a typical Hall-Effect thruster will weigh more than 200 kg (440 lbs), while a single external and internal Quantum Drive unit weighs just 186.6 grams and 103.5 grams (6.6 and 3.65 oz), respectively.
As co-founder Telehey, now the Chief Operating Officer of IVO Ltd., told Universe Today via email:
“The IVO Quantum Drive really is a total departure from the current limitations of modern space propulsion. It is the first pure electric propulsion device, meaning it requires only electricity to run. Gone are the days of complex fuel systems which require special fuel solutions to propel the spacecraft. As long as we have electricity, we have thrust, which is why unlimited Delta-V is possible for the first time ever. Due to its self-contained nature, this is the first propulsion device that can be completely internal to a spacecraft.”
The self-contained thruster can also be mounted in any orientation, offering up to 6 degrees of freedom. Eliminating the need for propellants also eliminates the need for bulky and heavy storage tanks, reducing a spacecraft’s overall mass and increasing its payload capacity. Last but certainly not least, a propulsion system that doesn’t require propellant removes the need for satellite refueling or deorbiting due to fuel limitations. Said Telehey, these advantages “will drive the most dramatic shift in terms of cost reduction that the space industry has ever seen.”
Already, IVO Ltd. has worked with E-Labs (a Virginia-based testing and evaluation facility) to validate the Quantum Drive in a simulated space environment. As Mansell described it:
“The Quantum Drive was tested and the thrust was measured within high vacuum chambers (down to 4×10-6 Torr) in multiple configurations to eliminate possible artifact forces such as electromagnetic, electrostatic, Lorentz, Corona discharge, ion wind, etc. Control Drives were also produced to provide baseline measurements. All test setups were evaluated by third-party individuals. All Quantum Drives showed thrust consistent with predicted Quantized Inertial calculations. Control Drives confirmed that thrust measurements were not consistent with any other known forces.”
To test their propulsion system in space, IVO Ltd. has teamed up with orbital robotics developer Rogue Space Systems. Rogue is engineering the first generation of Orbital Robots (known as OrbotsTM) to facilitate humanity’s growing presence in space. The Orbot family currently consists of the Laura Orbot, designed to inspect, monitor and observe, and Fred, designed to move satellites and other assets to and from different orbits. A third spacecraft is planned, the details of which are to be announced sometime later this year.
All three spacecraft are supported by an operating system that incorporates machine learning and autonomous capability – the AI-Enabled Sensory Observation Platform (AESOP). This system allows the Orbots to operate autonomously, compensating for communication lags and periods when the spacecraft is not visible to control stations on the ground. It also provides collision avoidance and proximity tracking, allowing the Orbot to position itself automatically near a target satellite and determine how to service it properly.
“Our partnership with Rogue Space Systems stems from our shared passion for innovation and an ultimate objective to expand human capability,” said Telehey. “Humanity has been looking up at the stars for thousands of years with wonder and curiosity. Now, for the first time in the history of humanity, we have the ability to reach out and touch these distant places. Our organizations take this seriously and, together, IVO and Rogue intend to make history.”
Based on current levels of growth, the commercial space sector is projected to reach a total value of $1.4 trillion by 2030. In a similar vein, the green energy sector is also projected to reach $1.4 trillion before the end of the decade. These parallel developments illustrate the potential for companies in space, where accessibility is increasing, and the demand for cleaner, safer, and more efficient alternatives is high. With the successful demonstration of the Quantum Drive, the opportunities for growth will increase exponentially.
The launch is scheduled for June 10th and will be live-streamed via SpaceX’s Youtube feed. You can also watch the countdown and track the launch via the IVO Ltd website.
Further Reading: IVO Ltd., Rogue Space Systems
The post The First All-Electrical Thruster – the IVO Quantum Drive – is Headed to Space! appeared first on Universe Today.
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