In a world-first, an ESA-led team has built and fired an electric thruster to ingest scarce air molecules from the top of the atmosphere for propellant, opening the way to satellites flying in very low orbits for years on end.
ESA’s GOCE gravity-mapper flew as low as 250 km for more than four years thanks to an electric thruster that continuously compensated for air drag. However, its working life was limited by the 40 kg of xenon it carried as propellant – once that was exhausted, the mission was over.
Replacing onboard propellant with atmospheric molecules would create a new class of satellites able to operate in very low orbits for long periods.
Air-breathing electric thrusters could also be used at the outer fringes of atmospheres of other planets, drawing on the carbon dioxide of Mars, for instance.
“This project began with a novel design to scoop up air molecules as propellant from the top of Earth’s atmosphere at around 200 km altitude with a typical speed of 7.8 km/s,” explains ESA’s Louis Walpot.
A complete thruster was developed for testing the concept by Sitael in Italy, which was performed in a vacuum chamber in their test facilities, simulating the environment at 200 km altitude.
A ‘particle flow generator’ provided the oncoming high-speed molecules for collection by the Ram-Electric Propulsion novel intake and thruster.
There are no valves or complex parts – everything works on a simple, passive basis. All that is needed is power to the coils and electrodes, creating an extremely robust drag-compensation system.
The challenge was to design a new type of intake to collect the air molecules so that instead of simply bouncing away they are collected and compressed.
The molecules collected by the intake designed by QuinteScience in Poland are given electric charges so that they can be accelerated and ejected to provide thrust.
Sitael designed a dual-stage thruster to ensure better charging and acceleration of the incoming air, which is harder to achieve than in traditional electric propulsion designs.
“The team ran computer simulations on particle behaviour to model all the different intake options,” adds Louis, “but it all came down to this practical test to know if the combined intake and thruster would work together or not.
“Instead of simply measuring the resulting density at the collector to check the intake design, we decided to attach an electric thruster. In this way, we proved that we could indeed collect and compress the air molecules to a level where thruster ignition could take place, and measure the actual thrust.
“At first we checked our thruster could be ignited repeatedly with xenon gathered from the particle beam generator.”
As a next step, Louis explains, the xenon was partially replaced by a nitrogen–oxygen air mixture: “When the xenon-based blue colour of the engine plume changed to purple, we knew we’d succeeded.
“The system was finally ignited repeatedly solely with atmospheric propellant to prove the concept’s feasibility.
“This result means air-breathing electric propulsion is no longer simply a theory but a tangible, working concept, ready to be developed, to serve one day as the basis of a new class of missions.”
The Latest on: Electric thruster
- Hyundai Kite – Dune Buggy With Electric Propulsion on March 16, 2018 at 11:15 am
Hyundai, in partnership with Istituto Europeo di Design (IED), designed a special all-electric dune buggy concept called Hyundai Kite. It’s powered by four in-wheel motors and a water jet turbine just in case one would like to travel on water. The ... […]
- A new all-electric 40-tonne truck unveiled for the mining industry on March 16, 2018 at 7:18 am
More industries are starting to see the advantages of electric propulsion and they are implementing it in new vehicles. Artisan Vehicles, based in California and Kirkland Lake, Ontario, saw that and decided to develop new electric vehicles for the mining ... […]
- Electric Car Drivetrain Freedom Offers Better Safety — Part I on March 16, 2018 at 2:31 am
But before we dive into it, how about… Imagine walking into an electric vehicle (EV) store of the future and talking to a friendly helper who is asking you if you would rather have a traditional propulsion design for your EV or something a little more ... […]
- Swiss Teams Advance Electric Propulsion on March 15, 2018 at 9:17 pm
The Swiss team behind the aEro 1 electric aerobatic aircraft has unveiled plans to develop an eVTOL aircraft with a modular hybrid-electric propulsion system. Zurich-based Dufour Aerospace has taken the wraps off the aEro 2, a two-seat tilt-wing with a ... […]
- Air-Breathing Electric Thruster Could Keep Satellites in Low Earth Orbit for Years on March 9, 2018 at 1:38 pm
When it comes to the future of space exploration, one of the greatest challenges is coming up with engines that can maximize performance while also ensuring fuel efficiency. This will not only reduce the cost of individual missions, it will ensure that ... […]
- World’s First Rocket Thruster That Uses Air As Fuel on March 9, 2018 at 6:22 am
The European Space Agency (ESA) has tested a rocket thruster that runs on air instead of fuel. The new thruster, named air-breathing electric thruster, pulls scarce air molecules from the top of the atmosphere and uses them as propellant, showing promise ... […]
- ESA-led team test fires air-breathing electric thruster for satellites on March 9, 2018 at 4:50 am
A team of researchers led by the ESA have fired a new type of thruster that could allow satellites to fly in very low Earth orbits for years at a time. The new thruster is an air-breathing ion thruster. It can slurp up the scant amount air molecules that ... […]
- The European Space Agency’s New Ion Thruster “Breathes” Air on March 8, 2018 at 7:21 am
The team has successfully tested an ion thruster that utilizes a method known as air-breathing electric propulsion (ABEP), or RAM electrical propulsion. That means it quite literally runs on air. Image Credit: ESA While ABEP is not a new concept ... […]
- New study: Global satellite electric propulsion systems market forecast 2018-2025 on March 8, 2018 at 2:33 am
News from Deep Research Reports - Industry Reports on China and Global Markets The report provides key statistics on the market status of the Satellite Electric Propulsion Systems manufacturers and is a valuable source of guidance and direction for ... […]
via Google News and Bing News