Hybrid propulsion to power Europe's space missions
An EU-funded project carried out research into a hybrid propulsion engine that can transfer satellites into orbit more cost-effectively and with less pollution than other systems, ensuring Europe has independent, environmentally friendly access to space.
© Sergey Nivens #127675213, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
Independent access to space is a key element of the European Space Policy. Competition is increasing in the provision of launching systems and subsystems, and cost-effectiveness has become a driving factor. The EU-funded HYPROGEO project has conducted research into a hybrid propulsion engine that can put satellites into orbit more cost-effectively and cleanly than other systems.
Firing satellites into geostationary orbit, where they have applications including telecommunications and weather monitoring, is currently limited to two options: chemical, or bi-liquid propulsion, which uses the reaction between two liquid chemicals to produce thrust; or the newly developed electrical propulsion technology, which uses electrical power generated by the solar panels.
Although hybrid propulsion technology is not new, using this technology for the transfer of a satellite payload into its orbit once the main boosters have completed their mission is very innovative.
Hybrid propulsion combines the best features of the other systems. Compared to bi-liquid, it requires a simpler design and is environmentally friendly. This is because it produces thrust using liquid hydrogen peroxide which, when it decomposes, produces only carbon dioxide and water. It has a lower operating cost and a faster response time than electrical propulsion.
The system works by bringing highly concentrated liquid hydrogen peroxide into contact with a catalyst called PX1, to produce hot, gaseous oxygen which is fed into the rockets combustion chamber. The higher the concentration of the hydrogen peroxide, the hotter the oxygen produced, and the higher the engines performance and efficiency.
The project developed and tested a full engine demonstrator composed of a combustion chamber, catalytic injector and nozzle. The feasibility of this technology was fully demonstrated by achieving a long, stable firing time of between 30 and 60 minutes with high combustion efficiency.
HYPROGEO fully demonstrated the economic and technical effectiveness of hybrid propulsion which is now a key technology able to enhance European competitiveness and access to space capabilities.