Boeing has announced that the first satellite using fully-electric propulsion has begun operating. Dubbed the ABS-3A, this 4,300-pound telecommunications satellite will provide C- and Ku-band service to South America, the Middle East and Africa. Unlike, well most every other satellite in orbit, the ABS-3A doesn't rely on tanks of inert gas for propulsion and orbit maintenance. Instead it relies on the Xenon Ion Propulsion System (XIPS) which employs a magnetic field to push ions around and generate thrust. The satellite is expected to use just 11 pounds of Xenon annually over the course of its 15 year operational life span -- that's a tenth the amount of propellent that a conventional satellite would require.
Boeing launched the satellite aboard a Falcon 9 rocket in March and handed off control of ABS-3A to its new owner, Asia Broadcast Satellite, at the end of August -- a month earlier than originally planned. Boeing plans to launch a second such satellite, ABS-2A, early next year.