Creating New Market Opportunities for Future Spacecraft with Next-Gen Electric Propulsion Systems


In partnership with the Airbus Space Equipment division, Space Tech Expo hosted a webinar on next-generation propulsion systems on July 9, 2018. While many questions were answered during the webinar, we received far more questions than we could respond to while we were live. Following the webinar, we selected some of your questions to put to our speakers.



José Gonzalez del Amo, Head of Electric Propulsion, European Space Agency

Cosmo Casaregola, Propulsion Mechanical and Thermal Systems Engineer, Eutelsat SA

Fernando Javier Pinto Marin, Product Manager, Power Products, Airbus Space Equipment Division

Hello Jose. Do you see new requirements for the test facilities (e.g. simulation chambers) coming up along with the new market trends/future developments?  

Jose: 5kW thrusters for the telecommunication and navigation market and 200-400W thrusters for the constellations market will have to be tested and the number of chambers is not enough. New concepts for CubeSats will also be required. All these thrusters will be tested in vacuum chambers and the plasma diagnostics, balances, and pumps should be good enough to achieve this objective. In the further future, very high-power thrusters around 10 to 20kW will also be tested.


Hi Cosmo. What is your opinion on high-temperature superconducting bus bars for power distribution in high-power missions?

Cosmo: For today’s GEO applications this is not considered of paramount importance as the power levels can be managed with off-the-shelf equipment or by lower-cost developments. However, for future missions with very high power installed on-board (for instance tugs/vehicle for exploration, space stations etc) this technology could be very interesting and probably necessary.


What is the return of experience in flight obtained so far on thrusters?

Jose: The SMART-1 with its Hall Effect Thruster going to the Moon had a lot of flight data that was very useful for the telecommunication market. The GOCE data also was used in the development of the ion engines for the commercial market. There is a lot of published data from the institutional missions, however the commercial flight data is kept at the companies involved. Therefore, it is very important to keep having in orbit validation projects from the institutional area.

Cosmo: For Hall Effect Thrusters and Gridded Ion Engines for GEO applications, we have generally observed thrusters’ behaviour largely in line with what is predicted by tests and analyses. However, in some cases we have observed something unexpected. Although they were not an issue, they have required further investigation. These investigations have generally led to lessons learned to be applied for test activities on the ground or for future flight hardware.


Hello, thank you for the very interesting talk! I would like to ask about the collision avoidance strategies to avoid debris, using electric propulsion.

Cosmo: For collision avoidance, at Eutelsat we generally receive notifications of a threat from JSPoC about potential collisions with traceable objects sufficiently in advance (more than a week). So, if the threat of the collision is confirmed in the days after, then if we have an EP system we plan the manoeuvres in advance with respect to chemical systems. With chemical systems we can react with some more delay. But, apart from the earlier activation of the manoeuvre, in the end there are no issues with EP from an operational point of view.

Missed the webinar? It is now available on demand here.