Development and analysis of novel mission scenarios based on Atmosphere-Breathing Electric Propulsion (ABEP)

S. Vaidya, C. Traub, F. Romano, G. H. Herdrich, Y.-a. Chan, S. Fasoulas, P. C. E. Roberts, N. H. Crisp, S. Edmondson, S. J. Haigh, B. E. A. Holmes, A. Macario-rojas, V. T. A. Oiko, K. L. Smith, L. A. Sinpetru, J. Becedas, V. Sulliotti-linner, S. Christensen, V. Hanessian, T. K. JensenJ. Nielsen, M. Bisgaard, D. Garcia-almiñana, S. Rodriguez-donaire, M. Suerda, M. Garcia-berenguer, D. Kataria, R. Villain, S. Seminari, A. Conte, B. Belkouchi

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Operating satellites in Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) benefit the already expanding New Space industry in applications including Earth Observation and beyond. However, long-term operations at such low altitudes require propulsion systems to compensate for the large aerodynamic drag forces. When using conventional propulsion systems, the amount of storable propellant limits the maximum mission lifetime. The latter can be avoided by employing Atmosphere-Breathing Electric Propulsion (ABEP) system, which collects the residual atmospheric particles and uses them as propellant for an electric thruster. Thus, the requirement of on-board propellant storage can ideally be nullified. At the Institute of Space Systems (IRS) of the University of Stuttgart, an intake, and a RF Helicon-based Plasma Thruster (IPT) for ABEP system are developed within the Horizons 2020 funded DISCOVERER project. To assess possible future use cases, this paper proposes and analyzes several novel ABEP-based mission scenarios. Beginning with technology demonstration mission in VLEO, more complex mission scenarios are derived and discussed in detail. These include, amongst others, orbit maintenance around Mars as well as refuelling and space tug missions. The results show that the ABEP system is not only able to compensate drag for orbit maintenance but also capable of performing orbital maneuvers and collect propellant for applications such as Space Tug and Refuelling. Thus, showing a multitude of different future mission applications.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCEAS Space Journal
Early online date21 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2022


  • Atmosphere-Breathing Electric Propulsion
  • Earth observation
  • Space tug
  • Very Low Earth Orbit
  • Very Low Mars Orbit

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Dalton Nuclear Institute


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