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A Seminar Report
Submitted in the partial fulfillment of the requirement for the VIII Semester
Seminar-10ME86L for the award of degree of
Bachelor of Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Submitted by

Under the guidance of

Mr. Thonta Raj URS TS B.E, M.Tech
Assistant professor, Dept of ME, Dr. T.T.I.T


(Formerly Golden Valley Institute of Technology)
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Kolar Gold Fields-563120
(Formerly Golden Valley Institute of Technology)
Oorgaum Kolar Gold Fields – 563120

Certified that the Technical Seminar work entitled “PLASMA
PROPELLED ROCKET ENGINES” is a bonafied work carried out by AKHIL
RAJ - 1GV14ME004, in the partial fulfillment for the award of degree of
Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering of the Visvesvaraya
Technological University, Belagavi during the year 2017-18. It is certified that
all corrections/suggestions indicated for the assessment have been incorporated
in the report. The technical seminar report has been approved as it satisfies the
academic requirement in respect of Technical Seminar – 10ME86L prescribed
for the Bachelor of Engineering Degree.

…………………… .…………………… …………………….

Signature of Guide Signature of HOD Signature of Principal
Mr. Thonta Raj URS TS Dr. P.D Sudersanan Dr. Syed Ariff

Name of Examiners Signature with Date

1. 1.

2. 2.

3. 3.
Plasma Propelled Rocket Engines 2017-2018


It is with the profound feeling of gratitude; I would like to express my sincere thanks
to our institution Dr. T. THIMMAIAH INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, K.G.F for
providing excellent infrastructure for the successful completion of this technical seminar.
I wish to express a wholehearted thanks to our Principal Dr. Syed Ariff for providing
his timely support.
I would like to extend hearty thanks to my HOD, Dr. P.D Sudersanan for being a
constant support of encouragement to carry out the technical seminar successfully.
I would like to extend hearty thanks to my guide Mr. Thonta Raj URS TS, Asst. Prof,
for his valuable suggestions, guidance and support in the completion of this seminar.
I would also like to thank seminar co-ordinator Dr Narasimha.C, Assco. Prof, for his
timely support in the completion of this seminar.
I would like to thank all teaching and non-teaching staff who directly and indirectly
supported for carrying out this seminar successfully.
I extend my hearty thanks to my parents, and friends for all the moral support provided
during the preparation for the seminar.


Dept. of ME, Dr. TTIT, K.G.F i

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It’s been barely two centuries from the invention of steam engine, and
from the light duty engines in small vehicles like cars and motorcycles to the rockets and
spacecrafts, we had a rapid growth in this field. As time changed its frame of reference, the
design of each engine took a new shape with the introduction of new scientific ideas and
engine cycles. Even though, the design and working of rockets varies from the other engines,
which shares the same gene- It all did the same purpose at a time i.e. to help the vehicle to
reach the destination
We launched the first rocket in the mid 19th century, 1967 to be exact, in
which Sputnik 1, a satellite which had a volume of a football was launched into its orbit by
the rocket Sputnik 8K71PS. It was great milestone in the history of the mankind. But it’s
been 50 years since the achievement of that feet, and we failed to launch spacecraft out of the
solar system. It’s because the fast fuel consumption of fuel by the conventional rockets in the
initial stage of the launch itself. There will be very low amount of fuel left in the space craft,
when it reaches the specified destination.
But a new hope have been induced in the broken dreams of deep space
exploration, when NASA launched ‘DAWN’ , a space probe, in 2007 with a new propulsion
technology called Plasma propulsion. This Seminar covers the following aspects of this topic:
1. Comparison of Electric propulsion to chemical propulsion.
2. Plasma propulsion.
3. Different types of Plasma propulsion.
4. Applications, Pros and cons of each type.
5. Conclusions made from the study.

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Details Page no
4.1 History of Plasma Propulsion 07
4.2 Advantages and Disadvantages of Plasma Propelled Rocket Engines 08
4.3Types of Plasma Propelled Rocket Engines 08
5.1Theory of Operation 10
5.2Applications, Advantages and Disadvantages 12
6.1Theory of Operation 13
6.2 Hall Thrusters or Hall effect Thrusters 15
6.2.1Theory of Operation 15
6.3Applications and Advantages 17
7.1Operating Principle 18
7.2VASIMR 19
7.3Advantages and Drawbacks 21

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Figures Details Page no.

Figure.3.1: Comparison of Electric and Chemical Rockets 04
Figure.4.1: A Plasma Thruster during test firing 06
Figure.4.2: An early plasma propulsion engine 07
Figure.5.1: Working of Helicon Double Layer Thruster 10
Figure.6.1: Working of Magneto Plasma Dynamic Thrusters 13
Figure.6.2.1: 2 KW Hall Thruster in Operation 15
Figure.6.2.2: Working of Hall Thruster 16
Figure.7.1.1: Electrodeless Thruster accelerated by ponderomotive force 19
Figure.7.2.1: VASIMR 20

Tables Details Page no.

Table.3.1 Comparison of Electric and Chemical Rockets 05

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Chapter 1

Rocket is a device that provides thrust to a vehicle by accelerating some matter (the
propellant) and exhausting it from the rocket. Most significant difference between rocket and
air breathing engines is that rocket carries all its own propellant. From the early 19th century
onwards, scientists have been trying to launch satellites into outer space with the help of
rockets. But the success rate of these missions was very low due to lack of technologies and
the huge cost involved. Also most fuels get expended in the initial stage of operation which is
not practical for deep-space mission’s explorations because they would require huge
quantities of fuel. Gravitation boost is also required.

The mission conducted by NASA which took off in September 2007, is powered by a
kind of space propulsion technology that is starting to take center stage for long-distance
missions- a plasma rocket engine. Such engines, now being developed in several advanced
forms, generate thrust by electrically producing and manipulating ionized gas propellants
rather than by burning liquid or solid chemical fuels, as conventional rockets do. Dawn’s
mission designers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory selected a plasma engine as the
probe’s rocket system because it is highly efficient, requiring only one tenth of the fuel that a
chemical rocket motor would have needed to reach the asteroid belt. If project planners had
chosen to install a traditional engine, the vehicle would have been able to reach either Vesta
or Ceres, but not both. Indeed, electric rockets, as the engines are also known, are quickly
becoming the best option for sending probes to far-off targets. Recent successes made
possible by electric propulsion include a visit by NASA’s Deep Space 1 vehicle to a comet, a
bonus journey that was made feasible by propellant that was left over after the spacecraft had
accomplished its primary goal. Plasma engines have also provided propulsion for an
attempted landing on an asteroid by the Japanese Hayabusaprobe, as well as a trip to the
moon by the European Space Agency’s SMART-1 spacecraft. Inlight of the technology’s
demonstrated advantages, deep-space mission planners in the U.S., Europe and Japan are
opting to employ plasma drives for future missions that will explore the outer planets, search
for extra solar, Earth-like planets and use the void of space as a laboratory in which to study
fundamental physics.

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Although plasma thrusters are only now making their way into long-range spacecraft,
the technology has been under development for that purpose for some time and is already
used for other tasks in space. As early as the first decade of the 20th century, rocket pioneers
speculated about using electricity to power spacecraft. But the late Ernst Stuhlinger—a
member of Wernher von Braun’s legendary team of German rocket scientists that
spearheaded the U.S. space program finally turned the concept into a practical technology in
the mid-1950s. A few year’s later, engineers at the NASA Glenn Research Center (then
known as Lewis) built the first operating electric rocket. That engine made a suborbital flight
in 1964 onboard Space Electric Rocket Test 1, operating for half an hour before the craft fell
back to Earth. In the meantime, researchers in the former Soviet Union worked independently
on concepts for electric rockets. Since the 1970s mission planners have selected the
technology because it can save propellant while performing such tasks as maintaining the
attitude and orbital position of telecommunications satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

The benefits afforded by plasma engines become most striking in light of the
drawbacks of conventional rockets. When people imagine a ship streaking through the dark
void toward a distant planet, they usually envision it trailing a long, fiery plume from its
nozzles. Yet the truth is altogether different: expeditions to the outer solar system have been
mostly rocket less affairs, motor would typically have no fuel left for braking. Such a probe
would need the ability to reach its rocket so that it could slow enough to achieve orbit around
its target and thus conduct extended scientific observations. This Seminar Report covers a
detailed study of Comparison of electric and chemical rockets, plasma propulsion, its
different types, advantages & disadvantages, Uses and the conclusions.

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Chapter 2

Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky on the year 1903, derives the rocket equation, which is
widely used to calculate fuel consumption for space missions. In 1911 he speculates that
electric fields could accelerate charged particles to produce rocket thrust. Then after that,
during 1954, Ernst Stuhlinger, a Russian scientist figures out how to optimize the
performance of an electric ion rocket engine. Work by researchers in the Soviet Union,
Europe and the U.S. leads to the first published description of the Hall thruster, a more
powerful class of plasma rocket.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Deep Space 1 in the year 1999,

demonstrates the first use of an ion engine as the main propulsion system on a spacecraft that
escapes Earth’s gravitation from orbit. In 2007, NASA launched Dawn space probe with the
mission of studying two of the three known protoplanets of the asteroid belt, Vesta and Ceres.
It is the first NASA exploratory mission to use ion propulsion. It is also the first spacecraft to
orbit two extraterrestrial bodies. It is currently in orbit about its second target, the dwarf
planet ceres.

The word from Houston is that Ad Astra Rocket Co., which has been developing
the VASIMR concept, has been making progress with its 200-kw plasma rocket engine
prototype. VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magneto plasma Rocket) offers constant
power throttling (CPT), which would allow it to vary its exhaust for thrust and specific
impulse while maintaining a constant power level. A (2015) flight prototype is in the works, a
VASIMR drive that could reach an exhaust velocity of up to 500 kilometers per second,
corresponding to a specific impulse of 50,000 seconds, which translates into an Alpha
Centauri crossing in 2200 years.

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Chapter 3

A fundamental problem in present day space flight is high cost in attainment of

adequate payload. This high price tag is one reason engineers go to great lengths to shave as
much mass from spacecraft as is feasible. The fuel and its storage tank are the heaviest parts
of a vehicle powered by a chemical rocket.

Fig 3.1 Comparison of Electric and Chemical Rockets

To travel to Mars from low-Earth orbit requires a delta-v of about 4.5 km/s. The
rocket equation says that a conventional chemical rocket would require that more than two
thirds of the spacecraft’s mass be propellant to carry out such an interplanetary transfer. For
more ambitious trips-such as expeditions to the outer planets, which have delta requirements
that range from 35 to 70 km/s- chemical rockets would need to be more than 99.98 percent
fuel. That configuration would leave no space for other hardware or useful payloads. As
probes journey farther out into the solar system, chemical rockets become increasingly
useless, unless engineers can find a way to significantly raise their exhaust speeds

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Table 3.1: Comparison of Electric and Chemical Rockets

Chemical Advantages Thrust for escaping planet g (~11.2 km/s reached quickly in 3 fuel

Flexibility for planetary assists in Solar System

Disadvantages High rates of fuel use

Slow for long distances

Electrical Advantages ~10X as fast for long-distances

Much lower rate of fuel use

Disadvantage Much lower power and thrust, not near gravitational bodies (eg E, S)

Prognosis Planned for future (e.g. human) missions to Mars

This demarcation between the two types of propulsion was appreciated in the early days
of the space race. While the development of chemical propulsion was of high priority for
getting rockets from the Earth’s surface into space, there was also research put into the
development of ion engines for travelling a distance into space once it was out there. This led
to the development of different types of plasma engines

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Chapter 4

Plasma Propulsion is a type of electric propulsion that generates thrust from quasi-
neutral plasma. This is in contrast to ion thruster engines, which generates thrust through
extracting an ion current from plasma source, which is then accelerated to high velocities
using grids/anodes. These exist in many forms. Plasma thrusters do not typically use high
voltage grids or anodes/cathodes to accelerate the charged particles in the plasma, but rather
uses currents and potentials which are generated internally in the plasma to accelerate the
plasma ions. While this results in lower exhaust velocities by virtue of the lack of high
accelerating voltages, this type of thruster has a number of interesting advantages. The lack of
high voltage grids of anodes removes a possible limiting element as a result of grid ion
erosion. The plasma exhaust is 'quasi- neutral', which means that ion and electrons exist in
equal number, which allows simply ion- electron recombination in the exhaust to neutralise
the exhaust plume, removing the need for an electron gun (hollow cathode). This type of
thruster often generates the source plasma using radio frequency of microwave energy, using
an external antenna. This fact, combined with the absence of hollow cathodes (which are very
sensitive to all but the few noble gases allows the intriguing possibility of being able to use
this type of thruster on a huge range of propellants, from argon, to carbon dioxide, air
mixtures to astronaut urine. Plasma engines are better suited for long-distance interplanetary
space travel missions.

Fig 4.1 A Plasma Thruster during test firing

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Fig 4.2 An early plasma propulsion engine

4.1 History of Plasma Propulsion

1903: Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky derives the “rocket equation,” which is widely used to
calculate fuel consumption for space missions. In 1911 he speculates that electric fields could
accelerate charged particles to produce rocket thrust.

1906: Robert H. Goddard conceives of electrostatic acceleration of charged particles for

rocket propulsion. He invents and patents a precursor to the ion engine in 1917.

1954: Ernst Stuhlinger figures out how to optimize the performance of the electric ion rocket

1962: Work by researchers in the Soviet Union, Europe and the U.S. leads to the first
published description of the Hall thruster, a more powerful class of plasma rocket.

1962: Adriano Ducati discovers the mechanism behind the magnetoplasmadynamic thruster,
the most powerful type of plasma rocket.

1964: NASA’s SERT I spacecraft conducts the first successful flight test of an ion engine in

1972: The Soviet Meteor satellite carries out the initial space flight of a Hall thruster.

1999: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Deep Space 1 demonstrates the first use of an ion
engine as the main propulsion system on a spacecraft that escapes Earth’s gravitation from
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4.2 Advantages and Disadvantages of Plasma Propelled Engines

• Wide range of fuels
• Deep space exploration possibilities
• Elimination of extra fuel mass
• Optimum usage of fuels
• High efficiency
• Less cost and corrosion
• Thrust development
• Less acceleration rate
• Not preferable for short range space exploration

4.3 Types of Plasma Propelled Engines

1. Helicon Double Layer Thruster (HDLT)

A Helicon Double Layer Thruster uses radio waves to create plasma and a magnetic
nozzle to focus and accelerate the plasma away from the rocket engine.

A Mini-Helicon Plasma Thruster, ideal for space manoeuvres, runs off of nitrogen,
and the fuel has an exhaust velocity (specific impulse) 10 times that of chemical rockets.

2. Magneto Plasma dynamic thrusters (MPD)

Magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters (MPD) uses the Lorentz force (a force resulting from
the interaction between a magnetic field and an electric current) to generate thrust - The
electric charge flowing through the plasma in the presence of a magnetic field causing the
plasma to accelerate due to the generated magnetic force.

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➢ Hall Effect thrusters

Hall effect thrusters combine a strong localized static magnetic field

perpendicular to the electric field created between an upstream anode and a
downstream cathode called neutralizer, to create a "virtual cathode" (area of high
electron density) at the exit of the device. This virtual cathode then attracts the ions
formed inside the thruster closer to the anode. Finally the accelerated ion beam is
neutralized by some of the electrons emitted by the neutralizer.

3. Electrodeless Plasma Thrusters

Electrodeless plasma thrusters use the ponderomotive force which acts on any plasma
or charged particle when under the influence of a strong electromagnetic
energy gradient to accelerate the plasma.

➢ VASIMR(Variable Specific Impulse Magneto plasma Rocket)

VASIMR, or Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, works by

using a propellant into plasma and then a magnetic field to accelerate the plasma out
of the back of the rocket engine to generate thrust. The VASIMR is currently being
developed by the private company Ad Astra Rocket Company, headquartered in
Houston, TX with of help from a NS Canada based company Nautel, producing the
200 kW RF generators for ionizing propellant.

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Chapter 5

The helicon double-layer thruster (HDLT) is a prototype spacecraft propulsion

engine. It was created by Australian scientist Dr Christine Charles, based on a technology
invented by Professor Rod Boswell, both of the Australian National University. Helicon
Double layer thruster is also called Ion Drive.

5.1 Theory of Operation

Fig 5.1 Working of Helicon double-layer Thruster

A helicon double-layer thruster (HDLT) is a type of plasma thruster, which ejects

high velocity ionized gas to provide thrust to a spacecraft. In this thruster design, gas is
injected into a tubular chamber (the source tube) with one open end. Radio frequency AC
power (at 13.56 MHz in the prototype design) is coupled into a specially
shaped antenna wrapped around the chamber. The electromagnetic wave emitted by the
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antenna causes the gas to break down and form plasma. The antenna then excites
a helicon wave in the plasma, which further heats the plasma. The device has a roughly
constant magnetic field in the source tube (supplied by solenoids in the prototype), but the
magnetic field diverges and rapidly decreases in magnitude away from the source region, and
might be thought of as a kind of magnetic nozzle. In operation, there is a sharp boundary
between the high density plasma inside the source region, and the low density plasma in the
exhaust, which is associated with a sharp change in electrical potential. The plasma properties
change rapidly across this boundary, which is known as a current-freeelectric double layer.
The electrical potential is much higher inside the source region than in the exhaust, and this
serves both to confine most of the electrons, and to accelerate 5the ions away from the source
region. Enough electrons escape the source region to ensure that the plasma in the exhaust is
neutral overall. Like most ion propulsion devices, the HDLT is a low thrust, high specific
impulse (Isp) thruster. A prototype 15 cm diameter thruster, operated in low-magnetic field
mode, underwent initial thrust testing in 2010; however, a more complete testing method
would be necessary to properly calculate the total thrust. Currently, the final thruster
prototype is undergoing tests at the space simulation facility dubbed "Wombat XL" located at
the Australian National University (ANU) Mount Stromlo Observatory.

The HDLT has two main advantages over most other ion thruster designs; first, it
creates an accelerating electric field without inserting unreliable components like high
voltage grids into the plasma (the only plasma-facing component is the robust plasma vessel).
Secondly, a neutralizer isn't needed, since there are equal numbers of electrons and (singly
charged) positive ions emitted. So, with neither moving mechanical parts nor susceptibility to
erosion, Dr Charles explains, 'As long as you provide the power and the propellant you can
go forever.

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5.2 Applications, Advantages and Disadvantages


• Satellite station keeping

• Long term Leo to Geo Orbit transfers
• Deep space applications


• High operational life up to 50 years

• Reduced launch weight
• Reduces the length of interplanetary trips


• Initial acceleration drag

• Space charge limitations

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Chapter 6

The Magnetoplasmadynamic (MPD) thruster (MPDT) is a form of electrically

powered spacecraft propulsion which uses the Lorentz force (the force on a charged particle
by an electromagnetic field) to generate thrust. It is sometimes referred to as Lorentz Force
Accelerator (LFA) or (mostly in Japan) MPD arc jet.

6.1 Theory of Operation

Fig 6.1 Working of Magneto Plasma Dynamic thrusters

Generally, a gaseous fuel is ionized and fed into an acceleration chamber, where the
magnetic and electrical fields are created using a power source. The particles are then
propelled by the Lorentz force resulting from the interaction between the current flowing
through the plasma and the magnetic field (which is either externally applied, or induced by
the current) out through the exhaust chamber. Unlike chemical propulsion, there is no
combustion of fuel. As with other electric propulsion variations, both specific impulse and
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thrust increase with power input, while thrust per watt drops. There are two main types of
MPD thrusters, applied-field and self-field. Applied-field thrusters have magnetic rings
surrounding the exhaust chamber to produce the magnetic field, while self-field thrusters
have a cathode extending through the middle of the chamber. Applied fields are necessary at
lower power levels, where self-field configurations are too weak. Various propellants such as
xenon, neon, argon, hydrogen, hydrazine, and lithium have been used, with lithium generally
being the best performer. An MPDT consists of a central cathode sitting within a larger
cylindrical anode. A gas, typically lithium, is pumped into the annular space between the
cathode and theanode. There it is ionized by an electric current flowing radially from the
cathode tothe anode. This current induces an azimuthal magnetic field (one that encircles
thecentral cathode), which interacts with the same current that induced it to generate
thethrust-producing Lorentz force.

A single MPD engine about the size of an average household pail can process about
million watts of electric power from a solar or nuclear source into thrust (enough to energize
more than 10,000 standard light bulbs), which is substantially larger than the maximum
power limits of ion or Hall thrusters of the same size. An MPDT can produce exhaust
velocities from 15 to 60 km/s.

This design also offers the advantage of throttling; its exhaust speed and thrust can be
easily adjusted by varying the electric current level or the flow rate of the propellant.
Throttling allows a mission planner to alter a spacecraft’s engine thrust and exhaust velocity
as needed to optimize its trajectory. In theory, MPD thrusters could produce extremely high
specific impulses (Isp) with an exhaust velocity of up to and beyond 110,000 m/s, triple the
value of current xenon-based ion thrusters, and about 20 times better than liquid rockets.
MPD technology also has the potential for thrust levels of up to 200 newtons (N) by far the
highest for any form of electric propulsion, and nearly as high as many interplanetary
chemical rockets. This would allow use of electric propulsion on missions which require
quick delta-v maneuvers (such as capturing into orbit around another planet), but with many
times greater fuel efficiency. Due to imperfect acceleration and phenomena like late-time
ablation and particulate emission, pulsed MPD thrusters often suffer from low thrust

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A latest design variation of Magneto Plasma Dynamic Thrusters called Hall Thrusters
are in the developing stage.

6.2 Hall Thrusters or Hall Effect Thrusters

In spacecraft propulsion, a Hall-effect thruster (HET) is a type of ion thruster in which

the propellant is accelerated by an electric field. Hall-effect thrusters trap electrons in
a magnetic field and then use the electrons to ionize propellant, efficiently accelerate
the ions to produce thrust, and neutralize the ions in the plume. Hall-effect thrusters are
sometimes referred to as Hall thrusters or Hall-current thrusters. Hall thrusters are often
regarded as a moderate specific impulse (1,600 s) space propulsion technology. The Hall-
effect thruster has benefited from considerable theoretical and experimental research since
the 1960s.

Fig 6.2.1 2 KW Hall Thruster in Operation

6.2.1 Theory of Operation

The essential working principle of the Hall thruster is that it uses an electrostatic
potential to accelerate ions up to high speeds. In a Hall thruster the attractive negative charge
is provided by electron plasma at the open end of the thruster instead of a grid. A radial
magnetic field of a hundred gauss (about 100–300 G, 0.01–0.03 T) is used to confine the
electrons, where the combination of the radial magnetic field and axial electric field cause the
electrons to drift azimuthally, forming the Hall current from which the device gets its name.

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Fig 6.2.2 Working of Hall Thruster

A schematic of Hall thruster is shown in the figure. An electric potential between 150
and 800 volts is applied between the anode and cathode. The central spike forms one pole of
an electromagnet and is surrounded by an annular space and around that is the other pole of
the electromagnet, with a radial magnetic field in between.

The propellant, such as xenon gas, is fed through the anode, which has numerous
small holes in it to act as a gas distributor. Xenon propellant is used because of its high
atomic weight and low ionization potential. As the neutral xenon atoms diffuse into the
channel of the thruster, they are ionized by collisions with high energy circulating electrons
(typically 10–40 eV, or about 10% of the discharge voltage). Once ionized, the xenon ions
typically have a charge of +1, though a small fraction (~20%) is +2.

The xenon ions are then accelerated by the electric field between the anode and
the cathode. For discharge voltages of 300 V, the ions reach speeds of around 15 km/s for a
specific impulse of 1,500 seconds (15 kN·s/kg). Upon exiting, however, the ions pull an
equal number of electrons with them, creating a plume with no net charge. The radial
magnetic field is designed to be strong enough to substantially deflect the low-mass electrons,
but not the high-mass ions, which have a much larger gyro radius and are hardly impeded.
The majority of electrons are thus stuck orbiting in the region of high radial magnetic field
near the thruster exit plane, trapped in E×B (axial electric field and radial magnetic field).
This orbital rotation of the electrons is a circulating Hall current and it is from this that the
Hall thruster gets its name. Collisions with other particles and walls, as well as plasma
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instabilities, allow some of the electrons to be freed from the magnetic field, and they drift
towards the anode.

About 20–30% of the discharge current is an electron current, which does not
produce thrust, thus limiting the energetic efficiency of the thruster; the other 70–80% of the
current is in the ions. Because the majority of electrons are trapped in the Hall current, they
have a long residence time inside the thruster and are able to ionize almost all of the xenon
propellant, allowing mass utilizations of 90–99%. The mass utilization efficiency of the
thruster is thus around 90%, while the discharge current efficiency is around 70%, for a
combined thruster efficiency of around 63% (= 90% × 70%). Modern Hall thrusters have
achieved efficiencies as high as 75% through advanced designs.

Compared to chemical rockets, the thrust is very small, on the order of 83 mN for a
typical thruster operating at 300 V, 1.5 kW. For comparison, the weight of a coin like the
U.S. quarter or a 20-cent Euro coin is approximately 60 mN. As with all forms of electrically
powered spacecraft propulsion, thrust is limited by available power, efficiency, and specific
impulse. Hall thrusters operate at the high specific impulses that are typical of electric
propulsion. This allows for much smaller thrusters compared to gridded ion thrusters.
Another advantage is that these thrusters can use a wider variety of propellants supplied to
the anode, even oxygen, although something easily ionized is needed at the cathode.

6.3 Applications and Advantages


1. Satellite Station keeping

2. Deep Space Applications
3. Long term LEO to GEO orbit Transfers

1. Can produce high specific impulse(Isp) with an exhaust velocity of up and beyond
110000 m/s
2. Thrust levels of up to 200 Newton (N) (45 lbF ), by far the highest for any form of
electric propulsion

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Chapter 7

The Electrodeless plasma thruster is a spacecraft propulsion engine commercialized

under the accronym "E-IMPAcT" for "Electrodeless-Ionization Magnetized Ponderomotive
Acceleration Thruster". It was created by Mr. Gregory Emsellem based on technology
developed by French Atomic Energy Commission scientist Dr Richard Geller and Dr.
Terenzio Consoli, for high speed plasma beam production.

7.1 Operating Principle

1. Propellant is injected at the upstream side of the thruster body. In cases where the
propellant used is not gaseous (e.g., alkali metals) at the local temperature, the
propellant must be vaporized.
2. Gaseous propellant is ionized by one of the following methods:
• Bombarding the propellant with electrons emitted by a hot cathode or by
an electron gun.
• A steady state electrical discharge between two electrodes.
• Applying an alternating electric field either via a capacitive discharge or
an inductive discharge or even a helicon discharge.
• Electromagnetic waves of various frequency from radio frequency up to gamma
rays, which is especially useful for solid propellant in which case the propellant
can be simultaneously vaporized and ionized by a laser impulse.
3. As the ionization stage is subjected to a steady magnetic field, the ionization process
can leverage this situation by using one of the numerous resonances existing in
magnetized plasma, such as ion cyclotron resonance (ICR), electron cyclotron
resonance (ECR) or lower hybrid oscillation, to produce a high density cold plasma.

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Fig 7.1.1 Electrodeless Thruster accelerated by ponderomotive force

4. The cold and dense plasma, produced by the ionization stage, then drifts toward the
acceleration stage by diffusion across a region of higher magnetic field intensity.
5. In the acceleration stage the propellant plasma is accelerated by
magnetized ponderomotive force in an area where both non-uniform static magnetic
fields and non-uniform high-frequency electromagnetic fields are applied

7.2 VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magneto Plasma Rocket)

VASIMR uses the same principle as that of Electrodeless propulsion. VASIMR is

sometimes referred to as the Electro-thermal Plasma Thruster or Electro-thermal
Magnetoplasma Rocket. It uses radio waves to ionize and heat the propellent, which is then
accelerated with magnetic fields to generate thrust. This engine is electrodeless, of the same
propulsion family as the electrodeless plasma thruster. It has been described as an
electrodeless version of an arcjet rocket that can reach higher propellant temperature by
limiting the heat flux from the plasma to the structure. Neither type of engine uses electrodes.
This eliminates the electrode erosion that shortens the equipment life of rival ion thruster
designs. Since every part of a VASIMR engine is magnetically shielded and does not directly
contact plasma, the durability of this engine is predicted to be greater than many other
ion/plasma engines.

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VASIMR has been described as a convergent-divergent nozzle for ions and

electrons. The propellant is injected into a hollow cylinder surfaced with electromagnets. On
entering the engine ,the gas is first heated to a “cold plasma” by a helicon RF antenna that
bombards the gas with electromagnetic waves, stripping electrons off the propellant atoms
and producing a plasma of ions and loose electrons that flow down the engine compartment.
By varying the amount of energy dedicated to RF heating and the amount of propellant
delivered for plasma generation, VASIMR is capable of generating either low-thrust, high-
specific impulse exhaust or relatively high-thrust, low-specific impulse exhaust. The second
phase of the engine is a strong electromagnet positioned to compress the ionized plasma in a
similar fashion to a convergent-divergent nozzle that compresses gas in traditional rocket

A second coupler, known as the Ion Cyclotron Heating (ICH) section, emits
electromagnetic waves in resonance with the orbits of ions and electrons as they travel
through the engine. Resonance is achieved through a reduction of the magnetic field in this
portion of the engine that slows the orbital motion of the plasma particles. This section
further heats the plasma to greater than 1,000,000 kelvin-about 173 times the temperature of
the sun’s surface.

Fig 7.2.1 VASIMR (Schematic)

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The path of ions and electrons through the engine approximates lines parallel to the
engine walls; however, the particles actually orbit those lines while travelling linearly
through the engine. The final, diverging, section of the engine contains an expanding
magnetic field that drives the ions and electrons in steadily expanding spirals and ejects them
from the engine, parallel and opposite to the direction of motion at velocities as great as
50,000 m/s.

7.3 Advantages and Drawbacks


1. Thrust density delivered can be very high.

2. It avoids thruster erosion and spacecraft contamination issues.
3. Reduced Launch weight.
4. Reduces the length of interplanetary space trips.


1. No working model is been developed yet.

2. It is a complete theoretical design

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Chapter 8

Much as the fabled slow and steady tortoise beats out the intermittently sprinting hare,
in the marathon flights that will become increasingly common in the present era of deep
space exploration. So far the most advanced designs could impart a delta-v of 100 km/s much
too slow to take a spacecraft to the far-off stars but plenty enough to visit the outer planets in
a reasonable amount of time. One particularly exciting deep space mission that has been
proposed would return samples from Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, which space scientists
believe has an atmosphere that is very similar to Earth’s eons ago. A sample from Titan’s
surface would offer researchers a rare chance to search for signs of chemical precursors to
life. The mission would be impossible with chemical propulsion. And with no in course
propulsion, the journey would require multiple planetary gravity assists, adding more than
three years to the total trip time. A probe fitted with the little plasma engine that would be
able to do the job in a significantly shorter period.

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Ion, MPDT and Electrode-less thrusters are the plasma propelled engine systems
discussed in this seminar.

Ion, Hall and MPD thrusters are but three variants of electric plasma rocket
technology. During the past few decades researchers have developed many other promising
related concepts to various degrees of readiness. Some are pulsed engines that operate
intermittently; others run continuously. Some generate plasmas through electrode based
electric discharge; others use coil-based magnetic induction or antenna-generated radiation.
The mechanisms they apply to accelerate plasmas vary as well, some use Lorentz forces;
others accelerate the plasmas by entraining them in magnetically produced current sheets or
in traveling electromagnetic waves. One type even aims to exhaust the plasma through
invisible rocket nozzles composed of magnetic fields. In all cases, plasma rockets will get up
to speed more slowly than conventional rockets. And yet, in what has been called the slower
but faster paradox, they can often make their way to distant destinations more quickly by
ultimately reaching higher spacecraft velocities than standard propulsion systems can using
the same mass of propellant. They thus avoid time-consuming detours for gravity boosts.

For electric propulsion, initial acceleration is less but it will gain the acceleration and
will only take considerable much less time to reach the destination than the conventional
rocket engines. Less corrosion, high efficiency upto 80, reduced launch mass, and high
operational life is the other main disadvantages of the plasma propelled rocket engine to the
conventional engines. Except for the hall thruster, the other two is still is a theoretical idea,
which is the only barrier stands in between plasma propelled engines in conquering the space
field. More research and development on the proposed idea is the solution I would like to
suggest to solve this problem.

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[1] Edgar Y. Choueiri-“Efficient electric plasma engines are propelling the next generation
of space probes to the outer solar system”. –SCIENTIFICAMERICAN 2011, INC, 58-65.

[2]DanM. Goebel and Ira Katz. Wiley, -“Fundamentals of Electric Propulsion: Ion and Hall
Thrusters.” 2008,124-131.

[3] Turner, Martin J.L. “Rocket and Spacecraft Propulsion: Principles, Practice and New
Developments”, Springer Science and Business Media, 5 November 2008.

[4] Hofer, Richard R. “Development and Characterization of High-Efficiency, High-Specific

Impulse Xenon Hall Thruster” NASA/CR-2004-21309. NASA STI Program.

[5] Lapointe, Michael R; Mikellides, Pavlos G. “High Power MPD Thruster Development at
the NASA Glenn Research Center” on October 11, 2006

[6] S N Bathgate, M M Bilek and D R Mckenzie,”Electrodeless plasma thrusters for

spacecraft: a review”.- Plasma Science and Technology,20 June 2017, Vol 19

[7] Jared P.Squire; Franklin R. Chang Diaz; et al.“Experimental Research Progress Toward
The VASIMR Engine”. 28th IEPC, Toulose, France, 17-21 March 2003.

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