The Phase Four Radio Frequency Thruster
Phase Four’s Maxwell propulsion systems rely on our proprietary radio frequency thruster (RFT) technology, which is designed with simplicity and mass-manufacturability in mind, to rise to the challenge of large constellations of satellites.
RF Thruster Performance Envelope
|Maximum Thrust Point||33.7 mN||425 W|
|Maximum Specific Impulse Point||820 s||431 W|
The Phase Four RFT operates by using RF electromagnetic fields to energize a plasma. A permanent magnet array surrounding the antenna-liner generates magnetic fields that direct the hot plasma out of the thruster, converting the kinetic energy of the plasma into thrust. This simple mechanism eliminates the high voltage electronics and electrodes that are challenging to manufacture in large quantities for traditional plasma thruster systems. Furthermore, the RFT is robust enough to be used with myriad propellants and has been tested on xenon, krypton, iodine, water vapor, nitrogen, oxygen and several other exciting advanced propellants. These innovations enable significant reductions in lead time and materials cost compared to legacy electric propulsion technologies like Hall Effect Thrusters. Furthermore, development of the RFT on advanced propellants can unlock currently impossible mission possibilities from very low Earth orbit to deep space exploration.
In addition to propellant flexibility and ease of manufacturability, another unique aspect of the RFT is that it can maintain a stable plasma discharge across orders of magnitude of power and propellant flow rate. This gives the thruster a very broad performance envelope, compared to high voltage DC plasma thrusters. The Gen 2 RFT peak thrust and specific impulse points are shown in the table above. These points are only limited currently by our ground test hardware, not the physical limits of the thruster. Ultimately, this technology will unlock the ability for spacecraft operators to use a single thruster at very high thrust modes, very high specific impulse modes, and all the points in between, without needing multiple thruster technologies and different propellants.