INNOVATE, PROPEL, SOLAR:
IPROP’s Ionic Air-Breathing Propulsion, Exploring new Horizons for Aerospace
This project aims to bring ionic air-breathing propulsive systems beyond the pioneeristic phase, exploring their capabilities and improving their performance. Non-thermal plasma for atmospheric propulsion is a subject of recent investigations: model airplanes and vertical lifters have recently flown with this type of propulsion, but the potential of this technology is much higher. Many open aspects in this field deserve to be investigated, from fundamental research on ion production to geometric optimization of electrodes and integration of propulsion systems in existing aircrafts.
To this purpose, a complete research program is proposed, starting from breakthroughs in fundamental research to be achieved through theoretical, numerical and laboratory studies. The following steps will lead to develop improved and optimized propulsive units, with the objective of designing and building an airship model (technological demonstrator) with ionic propulsion. A further objective is the conceptual design of a full-scale stratospheric airship: for this aircraft the high risk approach of the project will give rise to different possible choices about propulsion, depending on the results achieved in the first steps. In particular, for this airship concept at least fully ionic propulsion and combined conventional/ionic propulsion will be considered.
A major long-term impact is expected for ion-powered airships, which could act as stratospheric platforms replacing many satellite functions, such as telecommunications, remote sensing, disaster risk management in civil protection, offering these services at much lower costs, with the benefit of being recoverable systems. A fully succesful program may lead to top-level, fully ion-powered airships: thanks to the propulsive units without moving mechanical parts, powered by solar energy, they would have extremely long operation times, low maintenance and very low pollution.