New Chinese satellites will operate on air instead of the usual fuel. Being on the border of the atmosphere, they will, as it were, "breathe" rarefied air and conduct optical observations
Specialists from Beihang University (Beijing, China) are developing new low-orbit satellites that are designed for an altitude of about 100 km: this is the region where the atmosphere ends and space begins. They will be engaged in optical observation.
Scientists have previously tried to develop prototypes of propulsion systems to run on an air gas mixture that can be obtained from the atmosphere. The systems are based on classic electric ion rocket engines, which, thanks to power from a nuclear power plant or from solar panels, create a jet thrust on an ionized gas.
Such satellites do not need a supply of fuel on board. They will be able to fly for many years, collecting gas from the rarefied atmosphere on the flight path. Simulation has shown that such structures can be assembled and run.
Therefore, now scientists are engaged in the creation of a system for capturing rarefied gas and maintaining a given orbit while moving on such fuel. But there is a serious problem - shock waves propagate in front of a satellite flying at great speed, which makes it difficult to collect gas.
Developers from China intend to solve this problem and assemble a demonstration satellite for flight without fuel in orbit at an altitude of 180 km.