Astronautics pp 105-119 | Cite as

Electric Propulsion

  • Ulrich WalterEmail author


Electric propulsion engines differ from thermal engines in that, among other things, the propellant does not serve as an energy source to heat and accelerate the propellant mass in the combustion chamber. Rather acceleration is achieved by accelerating ions in an electric field, the energy of which needs to be provided externally by an electric current source. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. The advantage is that, theoretically, any amount of energy can be applied to the propellant mass which would in principle permit unlimited exhaust speeds, hence unlimited specific impulse, and therefore unlimited efficiency of the engine. The disadvantage is that the structural mass of the rocket stage increases due to the additional mass of the electric generator, which directly trades with payload mass. Massive generators are required especially for high-\( I_{sp} \) engines, so their additional mass may outweigh propellant savings. Therefore, comparisons between different propulsion systems always need to consider the total propulsion system mass: propulsion system, consumed propellant, plus energy supply system.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of AstronauticsTechnical University of MunichGarchingGermany

Personalised recommendations