Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Specific challenge: Advances in-Space propulsion beyond the use of chemical technologies will enable a much more competitive development and exploitation of Space systems. The challenge is to enable major advances in electric propulsion for in-space operations and transportation, and guarantee the leadership of European capabilities in electric propulsion at world level within the 2020-2030 timeframe. The objective is to propose a Programme Support Activity (PSA), for the future implementation of a Strategic Research Cluster (SRC) in Horizon 2020. The overall budget for such an SRC could be in the range of several tens of millions of euros and should achieve a full in-orbit validation of the electric propulsion systems developed at pre-commercial level during the SRC. This validation is to be achieved not later than 2023.

Further information on the concept of a Strategic research cluster in Horizon 2020 is available from</p>

Scope: In-Space transportation begins where the launch vehicle upper stage separates. It comprises the functions of primary propulsion, reaction control, station keeping, precision pointing, and orbital manoeuvring necessary for all satellites.

Some of these technologies will be used in commercial and governmental communications satellites for orbit positioning and station-keeping. Further development is needed to maintain European leadership in this domain which is threatened by a very strong competition of non-European actors aiming at proposing all-electric platforms. Research and development of promising electric propulsion technologies, far beyond the current state of the art, is encouraged. The Power Processing Units (PPU) for the electrical thrusters will be considered as well. A first objective for the SRC is to foster incremental advances in the development of thrusters by extending their specifications and operative ranges by a factor of at least 3, including advanced studies in the areas of new power concepts, architectures and associated advanced technologies. A second objective is to set up activities for promoting possible disruptive RTD in the field of in-space electrical propulsion, including the increase of electric power for propulsion.    

In order to assess the commercial viability of the technologies developed, the proposal should envisage studying the impact of using electrical thrusters in several types of generic platforms. Examples of these are: propulsive modules of interorbital vehicles (as tugs for contribution to in-orbit services), transfer of different payloads towards deep space, GTO transfer for communication satellites, and orbit control. To validate the electrical thrusters to be developed at pre-commercial level during the SRC, a qualification flight will have to be executed not later than 2023. This will serve as a validation for future mission implementation.

Alternative approaches, not already planned for development by other entities are encouraged.

The Commission considers that one proposal requesting a contribution from the EU in the range of EUR 4 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Expected impact: The initial expected life of the PSA action is 5 years. In this time, the consortium should have delivered: 

·         Collection and consolidation of requirements for future electric propulsion thrusters from European satellite primes

·         Survey of available European electric propulsion technology and its technological readiness level

·         Identification and definition of all the activities required to address the challenge of this topic. The contents of the activities must be in agreement with the objectives and boundaries defined in the scope.

·         A fully detailed master plan to coordinate all the activities for the whole duration of the SRC.

·         A plan for the analysis and evaluation of the results during the execution of the activities within the SRC.

·         A plan for the specific exploitation and potential use of the SRC expected outputs.

·         A risk assessment and contingency analysis for the SRC.

The execution of the SRC during a first period of 5 years will assure reaching the TRL-6[1] in the future devices that will form the next-generation of European electrical space thrusters. The goal at the end of the SRC will be to guarantee the leadership of European capabilities in electric propulsion at world level within the 2020-2030 timeframe.

Type of action: Coordination and support action

[1] Technology Readiness Levels are defined in part G of the General Annexes. In the specific area of space, further details can be found in the European Space Agency website "Strategic Readiness Level - The ESA Science Technology Development Route". European Space Agency, Advanced Studies and Technology Preparation Division,</p>

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