Moscow aviation Institute (MAI) is studying the feasibility of high-frequency ion engine that runs on atmospheric gases.
It is noted that a promising direction of development of the space industry is the creation of satellites of low mass, designed in particular for remote sensing (RS). Altitude sun-synchronous orbits, characteristic for such devices range from 300 to 700 km.
Reducing the height of the orbit will increase the efficiency of remote sensing satellites, but there is a problem. The fact that with decreasing height above the Earth’s surface the atmospheric density increases and the satellite experiences considerable aerodynamic drag.
For the correction of the motion parameters of the satellite serves as electric propulsion (EP). As the working fluid in this type of device is most commonly used xenon — an inert gas, stored on Board the spacecraft in the required amount. It is a rare gas, and the production cost is quite high. Moreover, the working body should be given a significant share of the mass of the apparatus. Therefore, the use of the classical ERD at low altitudes appears to be extremely ineffective.
An alternative is the concept of ERD, working into atmospheric gases, pick up from the environment (nitrogen, oxygen, and their composition). MAI already experts conduct experiments on a laboratory model of such a setup simulating the conditions of engine operation at altitudes from 200 to 250 km.
One of the problems of the new scheme is the choice of the most effective cathode, able to operate with chemically active gases of the atmosphere. Russian scientists have developed the design of a laboratory sample of the device on the basis of high-frequency discharge.
On the possible timing of the practical implementation of the project have not been announced.