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Design and De-risking of ABEP residual gases collector system



Organisational Unit
Activity Type
22 May 2024

Duration: 12 months


Atmospheric-Breathing Electric Propulsion (ABEP) system is a key enabling technology for VLEO platforms, which collects the atmospheric residual gases and supplies them as a propellant to an EP thruster. Though ABEP unlocks multiple use-cases of VLEO, its operations pose distinct challenges. The thruster must not only be compatible with atmospheric species including chemically aggressive Atomic Oxygen (AO) leading to severe degradation of critical components but also display sufficient efficiency for drag compensation. The propulsion system must also demonstrate flexibility to operate under varying densities/compositions experienced in an orbit, mission lifetime/profile, etc. Multiple concepts of ABEP were researched over the past decade, commonly employing passive intake due to its simplicity. However, such a system places strong requirements on the intake and the thruster’s operational regime. These can be eliminated with an active compression system, allowing decoupling of the intake and thruster. The studies critically review active systems having found them complex, bulky, power-hungry, and producing torques that need to be compensated for. These studies, however largely considered off-the-shelf compressors.

Therefore in this activity we will design & de-risk critical elements of an Active Collector System (ACS) tailored specifically for VLEO. A novel concept of the piezo pump with an ultra-compact buffer tank and a piezo valve will also be evaluated as one of the methodologies. Employing piezo-based compression and control system would help miniaturize the active system, reduce power requirements as well as allow for redundancy thus increasing the overall system reliability. The impact of torques generated will be evaluated during the project and a trade-off study will be performed with multiple concepts. A Breadboard model of the finalized design will be manufactured and tested.

Contract number
OSIP Idea Id
Related OSIP Campaign
VLEO - New ideas for the nearest of outer space
Main application area
Design and De-risking of ABEP residual gases collector system