The IPROP project

This project aims to bring ionic air-breathing propulsive systems beyond the pioneering 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.

What we do

IPROP will:


  • Bring ionic thrusters in atmosphere beyond the pioneering phase, explore their capabilities and improving their performance.
  • Start from breakthroughs in fundamental research and develop improved and optimized propulsive units.
  • Lead to design and build an ion-powered airship model.
  • Introduce a new sustainable propulsive technology.
  • Create the conceptual design of a full-scale ionic airship for the stratosphere a new sustainable propulsive technology.
  • Impact on the technology of stratospheric platforms, capable of replacing many satellite functions.

Who we are

The IPROP consortium involves qualified groups of researchers from 4 EU countries, performing theoretical, numerical and experimental studies. Their competencies encompasse several disciplines as: plasma physics; theoretical and applied fluid dynamics including wind-tunnel testing; high voltage and control electronics; material engineering and chemistry; propulsion systems; aeronautical structure design; flight mechanics, control theory and engineering, mission analysis and optimization.


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