Pale Blue receives $27 million grant to advance water-based satellite propulsion technology

Pale Blue, a Tokyo-based developer of small satellite thrusters, receives $27 million grant from Japan to advance water-based satellite propulsion technology.

Pale Blue, a Tokyo-based developer of small satellite thrusters, has been awarded a grant worth up to $27 million by Japan to enhance its water-based propulsion technology for larger spacecraft. The funding aims to support Pale Blue in upgrading its Resistojet thruster, which uses jets of steam to propel satellites, for missions involving spacecraft weighing up to 500 kilograms.

Having successfully tested its Resistojet thruster on the Star Sphere cubesat in orbit last March, Pale Blue is now expanding its efforts to establish a 2,000-square-meter factory dedicated to producing these thrusters. The Resistojet thrusters are specifically designed for satellites weighing less than 10 kilograms.

Under the Japanese government’s multiphase grant, Pale Blue plans to develop water-plasma propulsion systems, including ion and Hall effect thrusters, to enhance propulsion efficiency. These thrusters utilize electricity and magnetic fields to accelerate propellant, aiming to improve performance compared to traditional steam-based systems.

While steam-based propulsion systems have been developed by other companies like Bradford Space and Aerospace Corp, Pale Blue aims to pioneer water-based ion and Hall effect thrusters. Water, being a more cost-effective and safer alternative to Xenon gas commonly used in such thrusters, presents promising opportunities for satellite propulsion.

Pale Blue’s CEO, Jun Asakawa, highlighted the potential advantages of water-based propulsion systems, noting their affordability and safety compared to traditional alternatives. However, he acknowledged that water-based thrusters may not yet match the performance of other propulsion technologies in terms of thrust.

The first phase of the grant, part of Japan’s Small and Business Innovation Research 3 (SBIR-3) program, is expected to conclude by September 2025, with Pale Blue delivering prototypes for each thruster. This marks a significant milestone in the company’s mission to advance satellite propulsion technology.

In addition to the government grant, Pale Blue secured $7.5 million in funding last October to commence large-scale production of Resistojet thrusters. Among its clients is South Korea’s Yonsei University, indicating growing interest in Pale Blue’s innovative propulsion solutions.

As Pale Blue continues to push the boundaries of satellite propulsion technology, its efforts are poised to reshape the landscape of small satellite missions, offering more efficient and cost-effective propulsion options for spacecraft in the future.