Just across the other side of Farnborough's main runway lurks Europe's largest spacecraft electric propulsion test chamber. What's more, it's capable of firing two large thrusters, simultaneously at full power, in a total vacuum.

Space electric propulsion is emerging technology and it's revolutionising the way that spacecraft get around the universe.

Used for both station-keeping and orbit-raising, their exceptional propellant efficiency is also paving the way for more affordable interplanetary and deep space scientific spacecraft.

The 10m long test cell is 3.8m in diameter and – uniquely – can be used to test both high-power Hall effect thrusters (HET) and gridded ion engines (GIE). Snecma is the first commercial company to benefit from the chamber and is using it for development testing of its next-generation high-power HET engine.

QinetiQ is also developing its own GIEs and earlier this week, the European Space Agency (ESA) confirmed that the Farnborough-based company had been selected to demonstrate the critical space electric propulsion performance required for ESA's Bepi Columbo mission to Mercury.

Electric propulsion's exceptional efficiency means that the spacecraft will be a fraction of the size of one using conventional propulsion.

Source: Flight Daily News