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Solar-Powered Rocket Engine


Solar-Powered Rocket Engine (Using Hydrogen and Oxygen Fuel) with a Purpose of Shifting Satellites from Low Earth Orbit to Stationary Orbit

Tech Area / Field

  • SAT-EXP/Extraterrestrial Exploration/Space, Aircraft and Surface Transportation
  • SAT-STM/Spacecraft Trajectories and Mechanics/Space, Aircraft and Surface Transportation

8 Project completed

Registration date

Completion date

Senior Project Manager
Ryzhova T B

Leading Institute
Keldysh Research Center, Russia, Moscow


  • EADS SPACE Transportation S.A., France, Sedex 16, Paris

Project summary

This Project is devoted to the problem of increasing the power-and-economical efficiency of satellite launch facilities and aids for delivery to high-energy near Earth orbits including geostationary (GEO) one. Topical nature of solving this problem is related to high cost of satellite inserting into these orbits (30-50 k$/kg at putting into GEO). Key problem at solving this problem is development of high-capacity propulsion and power systems.

The studies being fulfilled at the last years on directions of increasing the high efficiency of the launch facilities have been showing that one of such direction is an application of solar propulsion-power systems based on solar thermal rocket engine operating on hot propulsive mass (as a rule, hydrogen) and a system of solar-to-electric conversion.

As a result of searching simple and effective configurations of solar propulsion-power systems the Keldysh Research Center has developed a conception of solar propulsion-power system with a system of energy conversion based on conventional planar solar arrays as well as multi-modal engine with high-temperature electrically-heated thermal accumulator. The fulfilled analysis of the main characteristics and effectiveness to use these systems in complex with Russian and foreign launch vehicles has shown that an application of solar propulsion-power systems of the proposed type will allow one to increase the mass of space vehicles inserted into GEO in 1.4-2 times relative to the launch and delivery facilities with traditional propulsion systems at insertion time of 30-60 days.

In connection with the fact that solar power conversion system is based on conventional-type solar arrays, the main problems of developing the solar propulsion-power systems of such type are focused on engine contour. Its basic aggregates and systems are:

– multi-modal sustainer engine in the structure of electrically-heated thermal accumulator and combustion chamber;

– auxiliary engines (for example, orientation and stabilization);
– propellant components feed system;
– control and monitoring system.

The works objective is a development of a conceptual project of solar rocket engine with electrically-heated accumulator for advanced aids of orbit-to-orbit transportation.

The project relates to category "Applied research". In the course of its fulfillment the following results are expected:

– firstly in the world the experimental data on efficiency of small-scale multi-modal combustion chamber with feed of hydrogen heated up to 1,200-1,500 K and the experimental data on thermal processes in the model of heated zone of high-temperature electrically-heated thermal accumulator will be received;

– the unique test programs and procedures will be developed;
– energy-mass and technical-and-economical characteristics of an engine for various launch vehicles and launch places will be determined;
– a conceptual project of solar thermal engine working on oxygen-hydrogen will be firstly developed and presented on a basis of the fulfilled experimental and project studies.

It is supposed that the obtained results will call attention of the foreign partners to new high capacity technology of satellite transportation or to the particular technical decisions involved. It allows one to initiate the development stage in the international cooperation.

Besides the use of the developed technical decisions and the experimental results properly they can be utilized in the allied areas:

– on high-temperature thermal accumulator in bimodal solar propulsion-power system;

– on high capacity multi-modal combustion chamber for engines of orientation and stabilization of oxygen-hydrogen rocket blocks.

Solving the problem of the present project assumes the use of space heritage in the field of rocket engine manufacturing, nuclear propulsion-power systems for space purposes, storage of cryogenic propellant components in space conditions. The scientists and specialists of the Keldysh Research Center have such experience. So the present project:

– presents the scientists and specialists of the Keldysh Research Center which are related with the "armory" technologies with the opportunities for scientific research activity in the area of transfer facilities of space vehicles for non-military purposes;

– promotes the integration of the scientists and specialists of the Keldysh Research Center to the international scientific community in the field of rocket technologies using cryogenic propellant components, technologies of high-temperature accumulation of thermal energy;
– supports the applied research for the peaceful purposes;
– assists in solving national and international technical problems in the field of development of high capacity space facilities for orbit-to-orbit cargo transportation;
– supports the transition to the market-oriented economy because primarily directs to research and developments to provide the reduction of cost of insertion into high orbits of commercial space vehicles.

The cooperation with foreign collaborator is assumed as follows:

– participation in the development of proposals on the project and schedule of works;

– information exchange in the course of the project realization;
– joint working seminars and consultations;
– participation in technical check of the activity on the project.

It is assumed to use the following technical approach and methodology to achieve the objective of the project:

– a range of variation of the main characteristics of solar rocket engine depending on ballistic scheme of insertion, used launch vehicles, parameters of inserted satellites is estimated by the computational techniques;

– as a result of the derived analysis and taking into account highly effective use of the engine at the various launch facilities, the requirements to the engine characteristics are determined;
– the variants of lay-out and configuration decisions of the engine, its systems and assemblies are determined on the specified characteristics of the engine by design methods; the distribution of the requirements to the characteristics and parameters of the systems and assemblies of the engine are carried out by computational methods;
– on the imposed requirements to the characteristics and parameters of the systems and assemblies of the engine, their possible configuration are determined by design methods and the basic technical decisions are substantiated by the computations;
– the substantiation of the efficiency of the accepted technical decisions on such key elements as the combustion chamber and thermal accumulator is conducted by the experimental methods;
– on the results of design, computational-and-analytical as well as experimental works on the systems and assemblies of the engine, the structure and configuration of the engine are refined, the sections are developed and the conceptual project is issued.


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