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Propulsion Systems for Space

You can access the report and other Patent Insight Reports by EPO and ESPI in collaboration with ESA at: https://www.epo.org/searching-for-patents/business/patent-insight-reports.html

The “Propulsion Systems for Space” Patent Insight Report is part of a series of collaborative studies with the European Patent Office and in collaboration with the European Space Agency. These studies examine worldwide patent filing data to pinpoint key trends and advancements within particular sub-domains of the space sector. 

In this report, we address the domain of propulsion, a transversal enabler of many applications in the space domain, including access to space; collision avoidance; on-orbit servicing, assembly, manufacturing and space exploration.  

An analysis of patent data for space propulsion systems has revealed the following key takeaways: 

  • Globally, there is a notable growth in patent filing activity. Space propulsion systems have witnessed a strong increase in patent activity over the last 20 years (especially since 2011) – averaging out at 9% annually. 
  • International patent activity is primarily concentrated among the players who have traditionally dominated the space sector. This encompasses applicants from the US, Japan, Europe (primarily France and Germany), China and Russia. 
  • International patent filing activity of European applicants is high (37%) but following a slowing trend line. There is an absolute and relative slowdown of propulsion system development in Europe, in line with the continent’s stagnant position in other, especially high-tech, sectors. Despite Europe’s efforts to be at the forefront of climate protection and green policies through the EUs Green Deal, the number of patent families about green propellants originating from the continent is of marginal significance. 
  • Electric Propulsion is on the rise. Electric propulsion has seen the largest increase in patent filings over the last 20 years, especially in China, and has surpassed chemical propulsion in recent years.


Article published in collaboration with:

The European Patent Office examines European patent applications, enabling inventors, researchers and companies from around the world to obtain protection for their inventions in up to 44 countries. The EPO is the executive arm of the European Patent Organisation, an international organisation with 38 member states. The EPO’s activities and budget are overseen by the Organisation’s Administrative Council, which consists of representatives of the member states.


The European Space Agency is an intergovernmental organisation with 22 member states. It is Europe’s gateway to space. Its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world. By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, it can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.


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