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Technical Issues and Solutions

The length of travel in space is one of the major limitations of how far humans may travel in the solar system. It is directly related to the level of performance that is available from existing propulsion systems. The performance of propulsion systems also defines the mass of payload that can be transported in space.

Propulsion technologies can be framed in three different categories: "escape propulsion" (from Earth surface to orbit), "in-space propulsion" (in orbit), and "deep space propulsion" (from orbit to outer space). The launch vehicles currently used for "escape propulsion" rely on very mature technologies, but for "in-space" and "deep space" vehicles, there are prospects of significant technological advances. 

Until nowadays, the propulsion types used in launch vehicles to operate the "escape propulsion" region are variations of the chemical propulsion. The technologies used in satellite launch vehicles or spacecrafts operating in "in-space" are mainly chemical propulsion-based, such as in espace propulsion, but research and use of other propulsion types are increasing. The types of propulsion used to operate the "deep-space propulsion" region are variations of the chemical, such as used in escape propulsion and in-space propulsion, non-chemical, like used in-space propulsion, and advanced propulsion

Propulsion Systems

Improving and developing propulsion systems is a key factor for future space exploration. As the data categorizing the reasons of launch vehicle failures demonstrate, propulsion is the main source of failures, with 58% of all failures, surpassing all the other systems. The high rate of propulsion failures indicates that, despite being considered a mature technology, It still has to be improved to become more safe and reliable. The scientific interest in the field also confirms the need to develop more advanced propulsion systems

Number of publications on "Space Vehicles Propulsion Systems"
Top 15 in the period 1959-2015, as indexed by Scopus. 

Causes of launch vehicle failures on systems

Propulsion Technologies


Leaders and Innovators


Comparison of 22 Companies in Space Propulsion by Development Stage and Type

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