Inductive plasma thruster (IPT) design for an atmosphere-breathing electric propulsion system (ABEP)

F. Romano*, G. Herdrich, P. C.E. Roberts, Y. A. Chan, C. Traub, S. Fasoulas, K. Smith, S. Edmondson, S. Haigh, N. Crisp, V. T. Abrao Oiko, R. Lyons, S. D. Worrall, S. Livadiotti, C. Huyton, L. Sinpetru, R. Outlaw, J. Becedas, R. M. Dominguez, D. GonzálezV. Hanessian, A. Mølgaard, J. Nielsen, M. Bisgaard, D. Garcia-Almiñana, S. Rodriguez-Donaire, M. Sureda, D. Kataria, R. Villain, J. Santiago Perez, A. Conte, B. Belkouchi, A. Schwalber, B. Heißerer, M. Magarotto, D. Pavarin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Challenging space missions include those at very low altitudes, where the atmosphere is source of aerodynamic drag on the spacecraft, therefore an efficient propulsion system is required to extend the mission lifetime. One solution is Atmosphere-Breathing Electric Propulsion (ABEP). It collects atmospheric particles to use as propellant for an electric thruster. This would minimize the requirement of limited propellant availability. The system could be applied to any planet with atmosphere, enabling new mission at these altitude ranges for continuous orbiting. Challenging is also the presence of reactive chemical species, such as atomic oxygen in Earth orbit. Such components are erosion source of (not only) propulsion system components, i.e. acceleration grids, electrodes, and discharge channels of conventional EP systems (RIT and HET). IRS is developing within the DISCOVERER project an intake and a thruster for an ABEP system. This paper deals with the design and first operation of the inductive plasma thruster (IPT) developed at IRS. The paper describes its design aided by numerical tools such as HELIC and ADAMANT. Such a device is based on RF electrodeless discharge aided by externally applied static magnetic field. The IPT is composed by a movable injector, to variate the discharge channel length, and a movable electromagnet to variate position and intensity of the magnetic field. By changing these parameters along with a novel antenna design for electric propulsion, the aim is to achieve the highest efficiency for the ionization stage by enabling the formation of helicon-based discharge. Finally, the designed IPT is presented and the feature of the birdcage antenna highlighted.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberIAC-19_C4_6_3_x49922
JournalProceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2019
Event70th International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2019 - Washington, United States
Duration: 21 Oct 201925 Oct 2019


  • ABEP
  • IPT
  • RAM-EP
  • VLEO


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