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Atmospheric Breathing Electric Thruster for Planetary Exploration
Kurt Hohman
Busek Co. Inc.

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This study will investigate the development of an atmosphere-breathing electric propulsion solar-powered vehicle to explore planets such as Mars. The vehicle would use atmospheric gas for propellant, eliminating the need to launch and carry the propellant from earth. The propulsion thruster would be electric where the gas is ionized in a plasma and accelerated by electromagnetic fields. The combination of high efficiency and high specific impulse of the electric propulsion thruster and free propellant in-situ will result in an exciting and enabling technology. At the completion of this development, NASA will be able to perform missions of extended lifetime and capabilities beyond those available by typical chemical rockets. Phase I will formulate feasibility of the concept through modeling, calculations and preliminary laboratory experiments and push validity into Phase II research.