Space travel requires combustion and therefore cannot be electrified.

Some parts of space travel are already electrified and present advantages over chemical propulsion. Moreover, hydrogen, the fuel for the main engines , can be produced with electricity.

Once spacecraft have been placed into orbit and separated from the launch vehicle, they rely on the onboard propulsion system for moving in space. One of the problems with chemical propulsion at this stage is the weight of the propellants, which can represent a large share of the spacecraft’s total weight. With the use of Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP), the total weight of the propulsion system and the propellant can be reduced by up to 90%. Due to the lower weight, mission costs can be reduced because launch vehicles can be smaller and more cargo can be carried by spacecraft over long distances.

Although launch vehicles still rely on chemical propulsion to produce the amount of thrust needed to get into orbit, the propellants used in the main engines can be produced with electricity. For example, SpaceX’s Starship is designed to use methane and oxygen as propellants and methane can already be produced using power-to-X technologies. Similarly, hydrogen, a very popular e-fuel, is currently used in NASA’s Space Launch Systems to fuel the engines.

References:

European Space Agency, “What Is Electric Propulsion?,” accessed April 13, 2020, https://www.esa.int/Enabling_Support/Space_Engineering_Technology/What_is_Electric_propulsion.

Beverly Perry, “Rocket Fuel | Rocketology: NASA’s Space Launch System,” Nasa, 2016, https://blogs.nasa.gov/Rocketology/tag/rocket-fuel/.

John H. Glenn Research Center, “NASA Facts: Solar Electric Propulsion,” NASA, vol. 3, 2002, http://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/pdf/84790main_fs03grc.pdf.

SpaceX, “Starship,” accessed April 13, 2020, https://www.spacex.com/starship.

NASA, “Space Launch System (SLS) Overview,” NASA, accessed April 16, 2020, https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/overview.html.