Alta of Italy has begun installing Europe's largest electric propulsion (EP) satellite thruster test chamber at Ospedaletto, near Pisa.

The Impianto Prova Propulsori (IPP) will go into operation later this year and be used to test EP thrusters up to 50kW. Alta is a private company set up in December 1999 as a spin-off from the University of Pisa and the Consorzio Pisa Ricerche Centrospazio laboratory, which still hold a 23% share of the company.

Alta developed the world's first integrated micro-thruster, the first European applied-field magnetoplasmadynamic (MPD) thruster and the first European high-power Hall effect thruster (HET). HET technology was developed by the former USSR in the 1960s and used until the 1990s, when it was picked up by Western companies including Aerojet, Boeing-Rocketdyne, Pratt & Whitney and Snecma. Alta is working with Snecma and EADS Astrium to develop a 2kW HET for the Eurostar 3000 satellite and the Alcatel/Astrium AlphaBus. It is also developing its own 0.1-7kW models intended to equip various European and Italian satellites.

Alta's facilities at Ospedaletto and Valenzano near Bari are equipped with space simulators and hypersonic windtunnels. The 200m3 (7,060ft3), €4 million ($5 million) IPP will enable the company to test medium and large satellite thrusters.

The IPP will later this year be used to test the T6 thruster developed by Qinetiq of the UK for the Bepi Colombo mission to Mercury.

Source: Flight International