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posted by martyb on Wednesday March 07 2018, @10:31AM   Printer-friendly
from the here-be-dragons dept.

World-first firing of air-breathing electric thruster

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.

[...] 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.


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 07 2018, @12:14PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 07 2018, @12:14PM (#648960)

    It looks more like a Hall thruster [wikimedia.org] than an ion thruster [wikimedia.org].

    Note [esa.int] the annular channel and the cathode on the side.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 31 2018, @04:20PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 31 2018, @04:20PM (#660872)

    So it does. Good catch. That also greatly increases the viability, because Hall thrusters have a much longer operating life than other ion drive systems.