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Satellite Technology Feature Article

February 27, 2013

ECAPS Gets Skybox Imaging Propulsion System Contract

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor


ECAPS landed its first U.S. commercial flight contract with Silicon Valley imaging startup Skybox Imaging. ECAPS will design and manufacture a complete High Performance Green Propulsion (HPGP) system for Skybox's third Earth observation satellite.

"This initial HPGP system will serve to qualify the system design for subsequent Skybox satellites,” Mathias Persson, President of ECAPS said in a press statement. “We are proud to partner with Skybox and look forward to supplying them with both this initial system, as well as propulsion systems for their future constellation of satellites.”

ECAPS uses an ammonium dinitramide (ADN) based monopropellent called LMP-103S in its flight-proven HPGP technology. LMP-103S is environmentally benign and much easier to transport and handle than traditional hydrazine, so using it gives satellite manufacturers much more flexibility in transport and selecting launch sites around the world. HPGP has also demonstrated higher on-orbit performance than hydrazine systems. The HPGP technology was first demonstrated on the SSC PRISMA satellite mission launched in 2010 and continues to be used on that mission today.

"ECAPS’ HPGP propulsion system will provide our spacecraft nearly twice the on-orbit delta-V of the more traditional monopropellant systems. This level of performance will give our constellation of small satellites significant mission flexibility, enabling us to provide higher quality, more timely data to our customers," said Jonny Dyer, Chief Engineer of Skybox. "In addition, the handling and safety advantages of the HPGP system provide us the lowest projected life cycle cost of the technologies we analyzed."

ECAPS is a company of the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC), with ATK (News - Alert) as its U.S. industrial partner. ATK will be a key supplier for the Skybox project, with the development of propellant tanks at its Commerce, CA facility, the ability to assemble HPGP systems for future Skybox constellation builds at its Beltsville MD facility and the ability to blend HPGP propellant at its Elkton, MD facility.

Skybox Imaging appears to be on a roll that could translate into good business for ECAPS. The company will provide customers easy access to reliable and frequent high-resolution Earth imagery through a constellation of microsatellites. Skybox's first two satellites are slated to be launched this year, with the company announcing a quick build of its second satellite to take advantage of a launch opportunity onboard a Soyuz-Fregat rocket at the end of this year.

Ultimately, Skybox will have a constellation of a dozen or more small satellites covering the planet with the ability to provide updated imagery within an hour. The company has secured over $70 million in venture funding, making it a firm to watch in the months and years ahead.




Edited by Brooke Neuman



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