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Radio Frequency
Ion Propulsion

Ion Propulsion Systems

Radio frequency ion propulsion systems for orbit raising, station keeping and deep space missions.

The electric propulsion solution developed by Airbus Safran Launchers is based on the space proven Radio Frequency Ion Technology (RIT).


European research into radio-frequency Ion propulsion was initially conducted in the 1960's by the University of Giessen, Germany. The predecessor of ASL, MBB, then joined the development team in 1970 and undertook the industrial leadership at the Lampoldshausen Centre.


Since 1970, the Lampoldshausen team has continued with the research, development and refinement of Radio-Frequency Ion Thruster technologies, associated propulsion systems, analytical tools and techniques, processes and materials technologies.


Lampoldshausen's first Radio-frequency Ion Thruster Assembly (RITA) was successfully demonstrated in space aboard ESA's European Retrievable Carrier EURECA, launched by the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1992. At that time, the RIT-10 system aboard EURECA provided a nominal specific impulse of 3,058 seconds.


ESA's Artemis spacecraft recovered by RITA-10 in 2003
ESA's Artemis spacecraft recovered by RITA-10 in 2003
RITA-10 Propulsion System of ESA’s spacecraft EURECA in 1992.
Enlarge image.RITA-10 Propulsion System of ESA's EURECA spacecraft in 1992


More recently, following a launch failure, a RITA-10 propulsion system shifted ESA's ARTEMIS spacecraft from a too low orbit into GEO in 2002/2003. This recovery action lasted about one year and required some 6,300 hours continuous operation of the RITA-10 propulsion system - which saved the mission.


Working Principle and Advantages of RIT Technology

RIT 10 ion thruster plume
RIT Thruster Plume

The Radio frequency Ion Thruster uses a high-frequency electromagnetic field to ionise xenon gas atoms to form a plasma containing free 'light' electrons and 'heavy' positive ions. The heavy positive ions are then accelerated by an electrostatic field before being ejected to cause thrust.


After the ions have been ejected from the thruster, electrons are added from a neutraliser. The plasma is thereby neutralised which prevents the satellite from becoming charged.


Advantages of RIT technology include:


  • Highest specific impulse offers substantial mass saving (>3000s)
  • High performance at low complexity
  • Reduced power processing unit mass
  • Narrow beam divergence
  • Robust design concept with a large domain of operational stability
  • Large throttle range and adaptable to available electric power
  • Excellent thrust stability and fast thrust response
  • Highest growth potential with increasing electric power in near and medium-term future



Radio Frequency Ion Thruster Family

The RIT portfolio includes thrusters for a range of diverse space missions. Our RITμX thruster, the smallest in the range, is optimal for orbital manoeuvres of science mission requiring the highest precision. The RIT10Evo thruster is the optimum thruster for north south station keeping whilst the largest RIT2X thruster is the best mass saving solution for an all-electric propulsion satellite.

In the field of electric propulsion our customers can depend on full systems competence and expertise in the fields of system design engineering, system performance analysis, analysis of mission scenarios, technology trade-offs, material investigation, testing, failure mode simulation, electron beam investigations, dual thruster operation and component development.



A versatile miniaturized electric propulsion thruster optimised for high precision orbital manoeuvres

RIT μX is the smallest Radio frequency Ion Thruster of the electric propulsion thruster portfolio. An electric propulsion system based on RIT μX provides for advanced and challenging mission requirements thanks to special characteristics demonstrated during extensive testing, namely: complex thrust profiles, high dynamics and high resolution, thrust linearity, very low noise and very long thruster lifetime.

RIT μX ion thruster.
RIT μX ion thruster




The optimum thruster for north south station keeping in hybrid propulsion systems

RIT 10 EVO is the Radio frequency Ion Thruster with medium thrust level. It is ideally suited for north south station keeping of hybrid propulsion systems. RIT 10EVO is based on the RIT 10 which has flown successfully and flawlessly over 10 years.

RIT 10 EVO ion thruster.
RIT 10 EVO ion thruster




The best mass saving solution for an all-electric spacecraft
The RIT 2X series consists of the largest Radio frequency Ion Thrusters of the electric propulsion portfolio. An electric propulsion system based on a RIT 2X thruster has distinct advantages including the highest possible thrust efficiency providing excellent specific impulse over wide thrust ranges and very efficient use of electrical energy.

RIT 2X series ion thruster.
RIT 2X series ion thruster



RIT Thruster Family Performance Data
Thrust & Power
Nominal Thrust 50 - 500 µN 5mN - 15mN - 25mN 80mN - 115mN - 168mN -
Nom. Power > 50 W 145 W - 435W - 760W 2185W - 2985W - 4650W -
Functional Performance
Extended / on request 10-100µN
300-3000 µN
Isp 300 - 3000 s > 1900s > 3000s > 3200s >3400s >3435s >4000s >4300s
max. demonstrated >3500 s > 3400 s > 6000 s (RIT 22)
Divergence angle* < 17° < 15° < 25°
Total Impulse >10kNs up to
>1.1 MNs >10 MNs
Max Operational cycles >10000 >10000 >10000
Total Lifetime >20000 h >20000 h ** >20000 h
Ionisation RF-Principle RF-Principle RF-Principle
Acceleration Electrostatic Electrostatic Electrostatic
Grid system 2 Grids 2 Grids 2 Grids
Propellant Xenon Xenon Xenon
Mass 440 g 1.8 kg 8.8 kg
Diameter 78 mm 186 mm 308 mm
Length 76 mm 134 mm 215 mm
Random 20-60Hz + 9db/octave 
60-400Hz: 0.5g^2/Hz 
400-2000Hz: -
Overall: 18.4 gRMS 
20-50 Hz: +6dB/oct
50-1200 Hz: 0.32g^2/Hz
1200-2000Hz: -6dB/oct 
Overall: 22.9gRMS
10Hz: 0.023 g^2/Hz
70Hz: 1 g^2/Hz
200Hz: 1 g^2/Hz
215Hz: 0.5 g^2/Hz
455Hz: 0.5 g^2/Hz
2000Hz: 0.026 g^2/Hz
Sine 5-20Hz 11mm (0-peak) 
20-100Hz 20g
5-18 Hz      11mm            
18-35 Hz    15g           
35-60 Hz    12g          
60-100 Hz    6g           
5-16.5 Hz    11mm      
16.5-35 Hz:  12g         
35-60 Hz:     8g          
60-100 hz:    4g  
5-33Hz: +- 10mm
33-100Hz: 38g 
Shock 500Hz 100g 
1000Hz 1500g 
10000Hz 1500g
100 Hz: 10g 
3000 Hz: 2000g 
10000 Hz: 2000g
100 Hz: 10g 
3000 Hz: 2000g 
10000 Hz: 2000g
Operating Temperature -40°C to +160°C -75°C to + 140°C -50°C to +190°C
Non-Operating Temperature range -60°C to +160°C -85°C to +140°C -60°C to +190°C




Ion Thruster Brochure (PDF)

PDF Brochure - Ion Thrusters


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