European Space Agency just introduced first air-breathing thruster, which is able to swallow meager air molecules found at the upper portion of the atmosphere into propellant and helps satellites sustain in the lower orbits.
GOCE gravity-mapper launched by a team of scientists from the European Space Agency flew for over five years lower than 250 km, because of electric thruster, which was constantly compensating for the air drag. Since, the researchers from different space probing firms including NASA and The China National Space Administrations demonstrated that working life of the thruster was restricted as 40 kg of xenon that it was carrying as the propellant that was once exhausted, and then the mission ended.
Louis Walpot at European Space Agency, Paris, expertise in Aeronautical and Aerospace Engineering stated that, “This project began with a novel design to scoop up air molecules as propellant from the top of Earth’s atmosphere at around 200 km altitude with a typical speed of 7.8 km/s. The team ran computer simulations on particle behavior to model all the different intake options. But it all came down to this practical test to know if the combined intake and thruster would work together or not.”
Walpot further says that, “Instead of simply measuring the resulting density at the collector to check the intake design, we decided to attach an electric thruster. In this way, we proved that we could indeed collect and compress the air molecules to a level where thruster ignition could take place, and measure the actual thrust. At first we checked our thruster could be ignited repeatedly with xenon gathered from the particle beam generator.”