The European Space Agency is seeking to develop an electric propulsion-powered module for the yet-to-fly Vega small launch vehicle, to increase its payload capability. Vega’s maiden flight is expected in 2007 and if successful the service module could begin operation in the next decade.
The module will be equipped with its own communications and autonomous navigation systems. The electric propulsion technologies to be assessed include gridded ion engines and Hall-effect thrusters
The module would be able to move payloads from low-Earth orbit (LEO) to medium-Earth orbit or geostationary transfer orbit (GEO). As well as a LEO-GTO transfer capability, it would be able to keep station and make LEO corrections.
“We could launch the replacement for the Galileo satellite constellation with it. Electric propulsion is now a mature technology and can be considered for this,” says the head of ESA’s propulsion and aerothermodynamics division, Georgio Saccoccia.
If the electric propulsion technologies are considered good enough, he says, they maybe used as the primary engine for an advanced Vega upper stage instead of the module. The tender for a feasibility study is expected to be formally released next month.