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H2020 ASPIRE project successfully launched

The Project

ASPIRE (Advanced Space Propulsion for Innovative Realization of space Exploration), an ambitious project that intends to contribute to the human and robotic exploration, has been successfully launched on 22nd January 2021.

ASPIRE proposes to further develop a Hall Effect Thrusters (HET) electric propulsion system (EPS) with >20 kW high thrust for exploration applications. The project is aligned to the Strategic Research Cluster (SRC) guidelines published by EPIC (see

ASPIRE aims at increasing the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 20kW  Hall Thruster system up to 6 by exploiting results obtained within the previous H2020 CHEOPS project (Grant Agreement No 730135). The Aspire project will cover many aspects, from mission scenarios analysis and satellite architecture consolidation to thruster unit TRL raise to 7 and enabling reduced-cost qualification. To keep operational and development costs as low as possible, krypton is maintained as baseline propellant.

The ASPIRE project also aims at augmenting the numerical modelling capability necessary for qualification of high-power EP systems, which lacks in Europe. The numerical models, developed and refined by three academic partners in the frame of this project, will be validated with the data gathered in more than 1000 hours of firing with Kr. Numerical modelling will be performed also with Xenon. Artificial intelligence is used to develop a novel simulation-aided qualification strategy, representing an exclusive European asset for the foreseen qualification and flight in the 2020-2030 decade.

The ASPIRE project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101004366.

The ASPIRE consortium is led by Sitael (IT) and is also participated by Thales Alenia Space France (FR), Advanced Space Technologies (DE), Microtest (IT), Imperial College London (UK), Universidad Carlo III Madrid (ES), University of Pisa (IT) and SME4Space (BE).

Kick-off Meeting

The ASPIRE project had its kick-off meeting on 22nd January 2021 via teleconference with the participation of all partners, Research Executive Agency (REA) Project Officer, EPIC consortium representatives and the external reviewer appointed by REA.

During the meeting, project information has been shared among the participants about project scope (WBS, work-logic, deliverables) and expected achievement, team and main responsibilities of each Partners, schedule and milestones. The project team’s understanding of project goals and objectives has been extensively discussed. The requirements for project reporting by the REA have been noted by the team and will be taken into account.

Project Background and Framework

The ASPIRE project charter has been defined and is in place, detailing business needs, team (with main tasks assigned to each Partners and the appointed WP leaders), specific objectives.

The process for risk management has also been taken into full account by the project team: a preliminary contingency plan has been also prepared, to be further elaborated during the first semester and included in the first issue of the risk analysis report.

No issues of accessibility to existing data/information/know-how are expected that could jeopardise the effective implementation of the Project. IPR management has been identified as particularly critical for ASPIRE, due to its incremental nature: indeed, it is expected to build on data, know-how and information that the Partners held before they acceded to the Agreement. Adequate measures to protect and manage background IPR of Partners are in place as regulated by the Consortium Agreement signed by all Partners; moreover, the background IPR identified so far can be updated at any time (subject to the approval of the Project General Assembly), should additional IPR deriving from parallel activities be claimed by any single beneficiaries.

With regards to the alignment to EPIC, complementarity of ASPIRE with CHEOPS and EDDA, both operational grants within EPIC, has been remarked.

In particular, ASPIRE is expected to build on the outcome of CHEOPS and increase the TRL of the CHEOPS system. Thus, the delta Preliminary Design Review (PDR) is expected to be held in continuity with the CHEOPS PDR, scheduled by end of March 2021. The Coordinator is ensuring the appropriate synergies between the two Projects to assure that the definition of mission cases and requirements for ASPIRE does not disregard CHEOPS achievements.

In ASPIRE, the target TRL for the electric propulsion system is 5-6 due to the power unit (PU) that is expected to reach TRL 5 (with critical functions to be verified at EBB level), whereas TRL 6 is expected to be reached by the flow management system and TRL 7 by the thruster unit. The intention of the Project to verify all the possible critical functions of the PU. However, the verification at spacecraft level cannot be performed. The functionality of high-voltage solar arrays and high-voltage bus architecture will not be verified. PU functions that will not be verified at EBB level are not expected to impede the system to demonstrate TRL 5-6.

Furthermore, the Fluid Management System (FMS) architecture will result from the trade-off between the “radical” and the “EPR+FCU” configurations. While the “radical” concept has a higher TRL, the “EPR+FCU” approach can be more suitable for clusters of several thrusters. For both cases, in ASPIRE the electronics and GSE will be further developed.

The Team Partners

The ASPIRE consortium has gathered together industrial and academic partners with unique assets and expertise in the project areas to reach the project objectives. On the industrial side, Sitael and AST Advanced Space Technologies have been extensively involved in European Horizon 2020 projects, and in particular, collaborated together in CHEOPS consortium to develop the overall architecture of the 20kW Hall thruster system and its components, power units, FMS and TU, up to the PDR level. As a result, they are fully aware of the requirements and expectations of the LSIs and stakeholders on this system. Furthermore, Thales Alenia Space France (TAS-F), as a future potential stakeholder, has an extensive heritage in studying and developing all-electric and high-power satellite architectures for a broad range of missions and applications. In this respect, the definition of satellite-level requirements and its architecture consolidation by TAS-F provides a realistic starting point to further develop the 20kW propulsion system and to pave the way to qualification and in-space application. In addition, Microtest has had extensive collaborations with major companies on power systems, and thus, is fully familiar with the potential users’ requirements. Regarding SME4Space, its involvements in other European H2020 project, including CHEOPS, has allowed understanding of the dissemination needs for effective sharing of results with stakeholders.

On the academic side, University of Pisa, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, and the Imperial College of London have each built exclusive state-of-the-art and innovative numerical and experimental capabilities, in line with the industry needs and in partnership with the European space companies within previous bi- and multilateral, Horizon 2020, and international projects.