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Satellites are the peak of human technical expertise which has enabled many more technical innovations which are taken for granted, for example the modern cellular communication which would not have been a reality but for the satellites circling the earth. To put these satellites into the earths orbit, we use a carrier known as spacecraft which can either put a satellite into the orbit or carry the satellite deep into space for other purposes. Putting a satellite into the orbit using a spacecraft is no easy task. The spacecraft has to escape earths gravity to put a satellite in orbit or send a space mission. To accomplish this, the spacecraft has to be propelled upwards. Various propulsion systems have been designed to achieve the purpose depending on the environment the spacecraft operates. Some of the systems designed are: Rocket Engines and Electromagnetic Propulsion mechanisms. ELECTROMAGNETIC PROPULSION: Electromagnetic Propulsion systems are much more effective in space where even a small change in reaction mass can be directly converted into kinetic energy with fewer losses due to negligible aerodynamic lag. These propulsion systems use the concept of containing the particles in magnetic field and releasing them out of the exhaust. The momentum of the particles gets converted into the kinetic energy of the spacecraft which gets propelled forward. There are various techniques used to achieve this. Some of them are: Magnetoplasma Dynamic (MPD), Pulsed Inductive Thrusters (PIT) and Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). Currently NASA has proposed a Fusion Thruster for deep space probe. SOLAR SAIL:

Its a Reaction massless propulsion system which uses the photons emitted by the ROCKET ENGINES: sun and the interstellar dust to drive the space probe similar to the sails driving a ship. Most of the rocket engines depend on Another technique which can be used is the chemical combustion technique which is magnetic thrust of massive planets like Jupiter basically a solid fuel which is oxidized and which act like a slingshot. This propulsion burnt. The hot air is allowed to escape through mode can be augmented by other propulsion a small edifice which expands out so that thrust mode to increase the speed of the probe. is increased resulting in increased acceleration of the rocket.

Spacecraft propulsion is any method used to accelerate spacecraft and artificial satellites. There are many different methods. Each method has drawbacks and advantages, and spacecraft propulsion is an active area of research. However, most spacecraft today are propelled by forcing a gas from the back/rear of the vehicle at very high speed through a supersonic de Laval nozzle. This sort of engine is called a rocket engine. All current spacecraft use chemical rockets (bipropellant or solid-fuel) for launch, though some have used air-breathing engines on their first stage. Most satellites have simple reliable chemical thrusters or resistojet rockets for orbital station-keeping and some use momentum wheels for attitude control. Soviet bloc satellites have used electric propulsion for decades, and newer Western geo-orbiting spacecraft are starting to use them for north-south station keeping. Interplanetary vehicles mostly use chemical rockets as well, although a few have used ion thrusters and Hall Effect thrusters (two different types of electric propulsion) to great success.

of fuel and oxidiser components, within a combustion chamber. The fluid exhaust is then passed through a supersonic propelling nozzle which uses heat energy of the gas to accelerate the exhaust to very high speed, and the reaction to this pushes the engine in the opposite direction. In rocket engines, high temperatures and pressures are highly desirable for good performance as this permits a longer nozzle to be fitted to the engine, which gives higher exhaust speeds, as well as giving better thermodynamic efficiency.


Rocket propellant is mass that is stored, usually in some form of propellant tank, prior to being ejected from a rocket engine in the form of a fluid jet to produce thrust. Chemical rocket propellants are most commonly used, which undergo exothermic chemical reactions which produce hot gas which is used by a rocket for propulsive purposes. Alternatively, a chemically inert reaction mass can be heated using a highenergy power source via a heat exchanger, and then no combustion chamber is used.

Rocket engines produce thrust by the expulsion of a high-speed fluid exhaust. This fluid is nearly always a gas which is created by high pressure (10-200 bar) combustion of solid or liquid propellants, consisting

combust thoroughly; different propellants require different combustion chamber sizes for this to occur. This leads to a number called :


is the volume of the chamber is the area of the throat L* is typically in the range of 2560 inches (0.641.5 m). The combination of temperatures and pressures typically reached in a combustion chamber is usually extreme by any standards. Unlike in air-breathing jet engines, no atmospheric nitrogen is present to dilute and cool the combustion, and the temperature can reach true stoichiometric. This, in combination with

A solid rocket motor. Solid rocket propellants are prepared as a mixture of fuel and oxidizing components called 'grain' and the propellant storage casing effectively becomes the combustion chamber. Liquid-fueled rockets typically pump separate fuel and oxidiser components into the combustion chamber, where they mix and burn. Hybrid rocket engines use a combination

of solid and liquid or gaseous propellants. Both the high pressures, means that the rate of heat liquid and hybrid rockets use injectors to conduction through the walls is very high. introduce the propellant into the chamber. These are often an array of simple jets- holes ROCKET NOZZLES through which the propellant escapes under pressure; but sometimes may be more complex spray nozzles. When two or more propellants are injected the jets usually deliberately collide the propellants as this breaks up the flow into smaller droplets that burn more easily.

For chemical rockets the combustion chamber is typically just a cylinder, and flame holders are rarely used. The dimensions of the cylinder are such that the propellant is able to

Typical temperatures (T) and pressures (p) and speeds (v) in a De Laval Nozzle The large bell or cone shaped expansion nozzle gives a rocket engine its characteristic shape. In rockets the hot gas produced in the combustion chamber is permitted to escape from the combustion chamber through an opening (the "throat"), within a high expansion-ratio 'de Laval' nozzle. Provided sufficient pressure is provided to the nozzle (about 2.5-3x above ambient pressure) the nozzle chokes and a supersonic jet is formed, dramatically accelerating the gas, converting most of the thermal energy into kinetic energy. The exhaust speeds vary, depending on the expansion ratio the nozzle is designed to give, but exhaust speeds as high as ten times the speed of sound of sea level air are not uncommon.

(adiabatically) the pressure against the nozzle's walls forces the rocket engine in one direction while accelerating the gas in the other.

For a rocket engine to be propellant efficient, it is important that the maximum pressures possible be created on the walls of the chamber and nozzle by a specific amount of propellant; as this is the source of the thrust. This can be achieved by all of:

heating the propellant to as high a temperature as possible (using a high energy fuel, containing hydrogen and carbon and sometimes metals such as aluminium, or even using nuclear energy)

using a low specific density gas (as hydrogen rich as possible) using propellants which are, or decompose to, simple molecules with few degrees of freedom to maximise translational velocity

Since all of these things minimise the mass of the propellant used, and since pressure is Rocket thrust is caused by pressures acting in the combustion chamber and nozzle. From Newton's third law, equal and opposite pressures act on the exhaust, and this accelerates it to high speeds. About half of the rocket engine's thrust comes from the unbalanced pressures inside the combustion chamber and the rest comes from the pressures acting against the inside of the nozzle (see diagram). As the gas expands proportional to the mass of propellant present to be accelerated as it pushes on the engine, and since from Newton's third law the pressure that acts on the engine also reciprocally acts on the propellant, it turns out that for any given engine the speed that the propellant leaves the chamber is unaffected by the chamber pressure (although the thrust is proportional). However, speed is significantly affected by all three of the above factors and the exhaust speed is an excellent measure of the engine propellant

efficiency. This is termed exhaust velocity, and above ambient, and equilibrium between the after allowance is made for factors that can two is not reached at all altitudes reduce it, the effective exhaust velocity is one of the most important parameters of a rocket BACK PRESSURE AND OPTIMAL engine.


For aerodynamic reasons the flow goes sonic ("chokes") at the narrowest part of the nozzle, the 'throat'. Since the speed of sound in gases increases with the square root of temperature, the use of hot exhaust gas greatly improves performance. By comparison, at room temperature the speed of sound in air is about 340 m/s while the speed of sound in the hot gas of a rocket engine can be over 1700 m/s; much of this performance is due to the higher temperature, but additionally rocket propellants are chosen to be of low molecular mass, and this also gives a higher velocity compared to air. Expansion in the rocket nozzle then further multiplies the speed, typically between 1.5 and 2 times, giving a highly collimated hypersonic exhaust jet. The speed increase of a rocket nozzle is mostly determined by its area expansion ratiothe ratios of the area of the throat to the area at the exit, but detailed properties of the gas are also important. Larger ratio nozzles are more massive but are able to extract more heat from the combustion gases, increasing the exhaust velocity.

For optimal performance the pressure of the gas at the end of the nozzle should just equal the ambient pressure: if the exhaust's pressure is lower than the ambient pressure, then the vehicle will be slowed by the difference in pressure between the top of the engine and the exit; on the other hand, if the exhaust's pressure is higher, then exhaust pressure that could have been converted into thrust is not converted, and energy is wasted. To maintain this ideal of equality between the exhaust's exit pressure and the ambient pressure, the diameter of the nozzle would need to increase with altitude, giving the pressure a longer nozzle to act on (and reducing the exit pressure and temperature). This increase is difficult to arrange in a lightweight fashion, although is routinely done with other forms of jet engines. In rocketry a lightweight compromise nozzle is generally used and some reduction in atmospheric performance occurs when used at other than the 'design altitude' or

when throttled. To improve on this, various exotic nozzle designs such as the plug nozzle,stepped nozzles, the expanding Nozzle efficiency is affected by operation in nozzle and the aerospike have been proposed, the atmosphere because atmospheric pressure each providing some way to adapt to changing changes with altitude; but due to the supersonic ambient air pressure and each allowing the gas speeds of the gas exiting from a rocket engine, the pressure of the jet may be either below or

to expand further against the nozzle, giving extra thrust at higher altitudes.

When exhausting into a sufficiently low ambient pressure (vacuum) several issues arise. One is the sheer weight of the nozzle -- beyond a certain point, for a particular vehicle, the extra weight of the nozzle outweighs any performance gained. Secondly, as the exhaust gases adiabatically expand within the nozzle they cool, and eventually some of the chemicals can freeze, producing 'snow' within the jet. This causes instabilities in the jet and must be avoided. On a De Laval nozzle, exhaust gas flow detachment will occur in a grossly overexpanded nozzle. As the detachment point will not be uniform around the axis of the engine, a side force may be imparted to the engine. This side force may change over time and result in control problems with the launch vehicle.

Multiple engines (often canted at slight angles) are deployed but throttled to give the overall vector that is required, giving only a very small penalty. High-temperature vanes protrude into the exhaust and can be tilted to deflect the jet. Engines are fixed, and vernier thrusters are used to steer the vehicle.


Rocket technology can combine very high thrust (meganewtons), very high exhaust speeds (around 10 times the speed of sound in air at sea level) and very high thrust/weight ratios (>100) simultaneously as well as being able to operate outside the atmosphere, and while permitting the use of low pressure and hence lightweight tanks and structure. Rockets can be further optimised to even more extreme performance along one or more of these axes at the expense of the others.

Vehicles typically require the overall thrust to change direction over the length of the burn. A number of different ways to achieve this have been flown:

The most important metric for the efficiency of a rocket engine is impulse per unit of propellant, this is called specific impulse (usually written ). This is either measured as a speed (the effective exhaust velocity in metres/second or ft/s) or as a time (seconds). An engine that gives a large specific impulse is normally highly desirable.

The entire engine is mounted on a hinge or gimbal and any propellant feeds reach the engine via low pressure flexible pipes or rotary couplings.

Just the combustion chamber and nozzle is gimbled, the pumps are fixed, and high pressure feeds attach to the engine.

The specific impulse that can be achieved is primarily a function of the propellant mix (and ultimately would limit the specific impulse), but practical limits on chamber pressures and the nozzle expansion ratios reduce the performance that can be achieved.

increasing altitude, because as atmospheric pressure decreases with altitude, the pressure thrust term increases. At the surface of the Earth the pressure thrust may be reduced by up to 30%,depending on the engine design. This reduction drops roughly exponentially to zero with increasing altitude. Maximum thrust for a rocket engine is achieved by maximizing the momentum contribution of the equation without incurring penalties from over expanding the exhaust. This occurs when . Since ambient pressure changes with altitude, most rocket engines spend very little time operating at peak efficiency.

Below is an approximate equation for calculating the net thrust of a rocket engine:

where: exhaust gas mass flow effective exhaust velocity actual jet velocity at nozzle exit plane flow area at nozzle exit plane (or the plane where the jet leaves the nozzle if separated flow) static pressure at nozzle exit plane ambient (or atmospheric) pressure Since, unlike a jet engine, a conventional rocket motor lacks an air intake, there is no 'ram drag' to deduct from the gross thrust. Consequently the net thrust of a rocket motor is equal to the gross thrust (apart from static back pressure). The term represents the momentum thrust, which remains constant at a given throttle setting, whereas the term represents the pressure thrust term. At full throttle, the net thrust of a rocket motor improves slightly with

If the pressure of the exhaust jet varies from atmospheric pressure, nozzles can be said to be (top to bottom): Under expanded Ambient Over expanded Grossly over expanded

If under or overexpanded then loss of efficiency occurs. Grossly overexpanded nozzles lose less efficiency, but can cause mechanical problems with the nozzle.

However, slightly over expanded nozzles will produce more thrust than critically expanded nozzles if boundary layer separation does not occur. Rockets become progressively more under expanded as they gain altitude. Note that almost all rocket engines will be momentarily grossly over expanded during startup in an atmosphere.

Rockets can be throttled by controlling the propellant combustion rate (usually measured in kg/s or lb/s). In liquid and hybrid rockets, the propellant flow entering the chamber is controlled using valves, in solid rockets it is controlled by changing the area of propellant that is burning and this can be designed into the propellant grain (and hence cannot be controlled in real-time).

Due to the specific impulse varying with

Rockets can usually be throttled down to an pressure, a quantity that is easy to compare and exit pressure of about one-third of ambient calculate with is useful. Because pressure (often limited flow separation in rockets choke at the throat, and because the nozzles) and up to a maximum limit supersonic exhaust prevents external pressure determined only by the mechanical strength of influences travelling upstream, it turns out that the engine. the pressure at the exit is ideally exactly In practice, the degree to which rockets can be proportional to the propellant flow , throttled varies greatly, but most rockets can be provided the mixture ratios and combustion throttled by a factor of 2 without great efficiencies are maintained. It is thus quite difficulty; the typical limitation is combustion usual to rearrange the above equation slightly: stability, as for example, injectors need a 4 minimum pressure to avoid triggering damaging oscillations (chugging or combustion and so define the vacuum Isp to be: instabilities); but injectors can often be optimised and tested for wider ranges. Solid Where: rockets can be throttled by using shaped grains the speed of sound constant at the throat that will vary their surface area over the course the thrust coefficient constant of the nozzle (typically about 2) And hence: of the burn.


to weight ratio. This is especially true for liquid rocket engines. This high performance is due to the small volume of pressure vessels that make up the engine -- the pumps, pipes and combustion chambers involved. The lack of inlet duct and the use of dense liquid propellant allows the pressurisation system to be small and lightweight, whereas duct engines have to deal with air which has a density about one thousand times lower. Of the liquid propellants used, density is worst for liquid hydrogen. Although this propellant is marvellous in many ways, it has a very low density, about one fourteenth that of water. This makes the turbopumps and pipework larger and heavier, and this is reflected in the thrust-to-weight ratio of engines that use it (for example the SSME) compared to those that do not (NK-33).

Rocket energy efficiency as a function of vehicle speed divided by effective exhaust speed Rocket engine nozzles are surprisingly efficient heat engines for generating a high speed jet, as a consequence of the high combustion temperature and high compression ratio. Rocket nozzles give an excellent approximation to adiabatic expansion which is a reversible process, and hence they give efficiencies which are very close to that of the Carnot cycle. Given the temperatures reached, over 60% efficiency can be achieved with chemical rockets. For a vehicle employing a rocket engine the energetic efficiency is very good if the vehicle speed approaches or somewhat exceeds the exhaust velocity (relative to launch); but at low speeds the energy efficiency goes to 0% at zero speed (as with all jet propulsion.) See Rocket energy efficiency for more details.

For efficiency reasons, and because they physically can, rockets run with combustion temperatures that can reach ~3500 K (~5800 F)(~3227 C). Most other jet engines have gas turbines in the hot exhaust. Due to their larger surface area, they are harder to cool and hence there is a need to run the combustion processes at much lower temperatures, losing efficiency. In addition duct engines use air as an oxidant, which contains 80% largely unreactive nitrogen, which dilutes the reaction and lowers

Rockets, of all the jet engines, indeed of essentially all engines, have the highest thrust

the temperatures. Rockets have none of these inherent disadvantages. Therefore in rockets temperatures employed are very often far higher than the melting point of the nozzle and combustion chamber materials, two exceptions are graphite and tungsten (~1200 K for copper), however both are subject to oxidation if not protected. Indeed many construction

MW/m^2. The strongest heat fluxes are found at the throat, which often sees twice that found in the associated chamber and nozzle. This is due to the combination of high speeds (which gives a very thin boundary layer), and although lower than the chamber, the high temperatures seen there. (See rocket nozzles above for temperatures in nozzle). In rockets the coolant methods include:

materials can make perfectly acceptable 1. uncooled (used for short runs mainly propellants in their own right. It is important during testing) that these materials be prevented from combusting, melting or vaporising to the point 2. ablative walls (walls are lined with a material that is continuously vaporised and of failure. This is sometimes somewhat carried away). facetiously termed an 'engine rich exhaust'. Materials technology could potentially place an 3. radiative cooling (the chamber becomes almost white hot and radiates the heat upper limit on the exhaust temperature of away) chemical rockets. 4. dump cooling (a propellant, Alternatively, rockets may use more common usually hydrogen, is passed around the construction materials such as aluminum, steel, chamber and dumped) nickel or copper alloys and employ cooling 5. regenerative cooling (liquid rockets use the systems that prevent the construction material fuel, or occasionally the oxidiser, to cool itself becoming too hot. Regenerative, where the chamber via a cooling jacket before the propellant is passed through tubes around being injected) the combustion chamber or nozzle, and other 6. curtain cooling (propellant injection is techniques, such as curtain cooling or film arranged so the temperature of the gases is cooling, are employed to give longer nozzle cooler at the walls) and chamber life. These techniques ensure that a gaseous thermal boundary layer touching the 7. film cooling (surfaces are wetted with liquid propellant, which cools as it material is kept below the temperature which evaporates) would cause the material to catastrophically fail. In all cases the cooling effect that prevents the In rockets, the heat fluxes that can pass through wall from being destroyed is caused by a thin the wall are among the highest in engineering, layer of insulating fluid (a boundary layer) that is in contact with the walls that is far cooler fluxes are generally in the range of 1-200

than the combustion temperature. Provided this and more efficient nozzle to be fitted without it boundary layer is intact the wall will not be being grossly over expanded. damaged. However, these high pressures cause the Disruption of the boundary layer may occur outermost part of the chamber to be under very during cooling failures or combustion large hoop stresses rocket engines instabilities, and wall failure typically occurs are pressure vessels. soon after. Worse, due to the high temperatures created in With regenerative cooling a second boundary layer is found in the coolant channels around the chamber. This boundary layer thickness needs to be as small as possible, since the boundary layer acts as an insulator between the wall and the coolant. This may be achieved by making the coolant velocity in the channels as high as possible. In practice, regenerative cooling is nearly always used in conjunction with curtain cooling and/or film cooling. Liquid fueled engines are often run fuel rich, which results in lower temperature combustion. Cooler exhaust reduces heat loads on the engine allowing lower cost materials, a simplified cooling system, and a lower performance engine. rocket engines the materials used tend to have a significantly lowered working tensile strength. In addition, significant temperature gradients are set up in the walls of the chamber and nozzle, these cause differential expansion of the inner liner that create internal stresses.

In addition, the extreme vibration and acoustic environment inside a rocket motor commonly result in peak stresses well above mean values, especially in the presence of organ pipe-like resonances and gas turbulence.

The combustion may display undesired instabilities, of sudden or periodic nature. The pressure in the injection chamber may increase until the propellant flow through the injector plate decreases; a moment later the pressure drops and the flow increases, injecting more propellant in the combustion chamber which burns a moment later and again increases the chamber pressure, repeating the cycle. This may lead to high-amplitude pressure oscillations, often in ultrasonic range, which

Rocket combustion chambers are normally operated at fairly high pressure, typically 10200 bar (1 to 20 MPa, 150-3000 psi). When operated within significant atmospheric pressure, higher combustion chamber pressures give better performance by permitting a larger

may damage the motor. Oscillations of 200 psi at 25 kHz were the cause of failures of early versions of the Titan II missile second stage engines. The other failure mode is a deflagration to detonation transition; the supersonic pressure wave formed in the combustion chamber may destroy the engine.16 The combustion instabilities can be provoked by remains of cleaning solvents in the engine, reflected shock wave, initial instability after ignition, explosion near the nozzle that reflects into the combustion chamber, and many more factors. In stable engine designs the oscillations are quickly suppressed; in unstable designs they persist for prolonged periods. Oscillation suppressors are commonly used. Periodic variations of thrust, caused by combustion instability or longitudinal vibrations of structures between the tanks and the engines which modulate the propellant flow, are known as "pogo oscillations" or "pogo", named after the pogo stick. Three different types of combustion instabilities occur:

damping tubes on feed lines of high density propellants.

This can be caused due to insufficient pressure drop across the injectors. It generally is mostly annoying, rather than being damaging. However, in extreme cases combustion can end up being forced backwards through the injectors this can cause explosions with monopropellants.

This is the most immediately damaging, and the hardest to control. It is due to acoustics within the combustion chamber that often couples to the chemical combustion processes that are the primary drivers of the energy release,17 and can lead to unstable resonant "screeching" that commonly leads to catastrophic failure due to thinning of the insulating thermal boundary layer.18 Such effects are very difficult to predict analytically during the design process, and have usually been addressed by expensive, time consuming and extensive testing, combined with trial and error remedial correction measures. Screeching is often dealt with by detailed changes to injectors, or changes in the propellant chemistry, or vaporizing the propellant before injection, or use of Helmholtz dampers within the combustion chambers to change the resonant modes of the chamber.

This is a low frequency oscillation at a few Hertz in chamber pressure usually caused by pressure variations in feed lines due to variations in acceleration of the vehicle. This can cause cyclic variation in thrust, and the effects can vary from merely annoying to actually damaging the payload or vehicle. Chugging can be minimised by using gas-filled

Testing for the possibility of screeching is sometimes done by exploding small explosive charges outside the combustion chamber with a tube set tangentially to the combustion chamber near the injectors to determine the engine's impulse response and then evaluating the time response of the chamber pressure- a fast recovery indicates a stable system.

why so much water is typically used at launches. The water spray changes the acoustic qualities of the air and reduces or deflects the sound energy away from the rocket. Generally speaking noise is most intense when a rocket is close to the ground, since the noise from the engines radiates up away from the plume, as well as reflecting off the ground. Also, when the vehicle is moving slowly, little

of the chemical energy input to the engine can go into increasing the kinetic energy of the For all but the very smallest sizes, rocket rocket (since useful power P transmitted to the exhaust compared to other engines is generally vehicle is for thrust F and very noisy. As the hypersonic exhaust mixes speed V). Then the largest portion of the with the ambient air, shock waves are formed. energy is dissipated in the exhaust's interaction The Space Shuttle generates over 200 dB(A) of with the ambient air, producing noise. This noise around its base. noise can be reduced somewhat by flame The Saturn V launch was detectable trenches with roofs, by water injection around on seismometers a considerable distance from the plume and by deflecting the plume at an the launch site. The sound intensity from the angle. shock waves generated depends on the size of the rocket and on the exhaust velocity. Such TESTING shock waves seem to account for the characteristic crackling and popping sounds Rocket engines are usually statically tested at produced by large rocket engines when heard a test facility before being put into production. live. These noise peaks typically overload For high altitude engines, either a shorter microphones and audio electronics, and so are nozzle must be used, or the rocket must be generally weakened or entirely absent in tested in a large vacuum chamber.


recorded or broadcast audio reproductions. For large rockets at close range, the acoustic effects SAFETY could actually kill. More worryingly for space agencies, such sound levels can also damage the launch structure, or worse, be reflected back at the comparatively delicate rocket above. This is Rockets have a reputation for unreliability and danger; especially catastrophic failures. Contrary to this reputation, carefully designed rockets can be made arbitrarily reliable. In

military use, rockets are not unreliable. However, one of the main non-military uses of rockets is for orbital launch. In this application, the premium has typically been placed on minimum weight, and it is difficult to achieve high reliability and low weight simultaneously. In addition, if the number of flights launched is low, there is a very high chance of a design, operations or manufacturing error causing destruction of the vehicle. Essentially all launch vehicles are test vehicles by normal aerospace standards (as of 2006). The X-15 rocket plane achieved a 0.5% failure rate, with a single catastrophic failure during ground test, and the SSME has managed to avoid catastrophic failures in over 350 engineflights.

producing thrust. Monatomic gases like helium have only three degrees of freedom, corresponding to the three dimensions of space, {x,y,z}, and only such spherically symmetric molecules escape this kind of loss. A diatomic molecule like H2 can rotate about either of the two axes perpendicular to the one joining the two atoms, and as the equipartition law of statistical mechanics demands that the available thermal energy be divided equally among the degrees of freedom, for such a gas in thermal equilibrium 3/5 of the energy can go into unidirectional motion, and 2/5 into rotation. A triatomic molecule like water has six degrees of freedom, so the energy is divided equally among rotational and translational degrees of freedom. For most chemical reactions the latter situation is the case. This issue is traditionally described in terms of the ratio, gamma, of the specific heat of the gas at constant volume to that at constant pressure. The rotational energy loss is largely recovered in practice if the expansion nozzle is large enough to allow the gases to expand and cool sufficiently, the function of the nozzle being to convert the random thermal motions of the molecules in the combustion chamber into the unidirectional translation that produces thrust. As long as the exhaust gas remains in equilibrium as it expands, the initial rotational energy will be largely returned to translation in the nozzle. Although the specific reaction energy per unit mass of reactants is key, low mean molecular weight in the reaction products is also

Rocket propellants require a high specific energy (energy per unit mass), because ideally all the reaction energy appears as kinetic energy of the exhaust gases, and exhaust velocity is the single most important performance parameter of an engine, on which vehicle performance depends. Aside from inevitable losses and imperfections in the engine, incomplete combustion, etc., after specific reaction energy, the main theoretical limit reducing the exhaust velocity obtained is that, according to the laws of thermodynamics, a fraction of the chemical energy may go into rotation of the exhaust molecules, where it is unavailable for

important in practice in determining exhaust velocity. This is because the high gas temperatures in rocket engines pose serious problems for the engineering of survivable motors. Because temperature is proportional to the mean energy per molecule, a given amount of energy distributed among more molecules of lower mass permits a higher exhaust velocity at a given temperature. This means low atomic mass elements are favoured. Liquid hydrogen (LH2) and oxygen (LOX, or LO2), are the most effective propellants in terms of exhaust velocity that have been widely used to date, though a few exotic combinations involving boron or liquid ozone are potentially somewhat better in theory if various practical problems could be solved.20

With liquid and hybrid rockets, immediate ignition of the propellant(s) as they first enter the combustion chamber is essential. With liquid propellants (but not gaseous), failure to ignite within milliseconds usually causes too much liquid propellant to be within the chamber, and if/when ignition occurs the amount of hot gas created will often exceed the maximum design pressure of the chamber. The pressure vessel will often fail catastrophically. This is sometimes called a hard start.

Ignition can be achieved by a number of different methods; a pyrotechnic charge can be used, a plasma torch can be used, or electric spark plugs may be employed. Some It is important to note in computing the specific fuel/oxidizer combinations ignite on contact (hypergolic), and non-hypergolic fuels can be reaction energy, that the entire mass of the "chemically ignited" by priming the fuel lines propellants, including both fuel and oxidizer, with hypergolic propellants (popular in Russian must be included. The fact that air-breathing engines are typically able to obtain oxygen "for engines). free" without having to carry it along, accounts for one factor of why air-breathing engines are very much more propellant-mass efficient, and one reason that rocket engines are far less suitable for most ordinary terrestrial applications. Fuels for automobile or turbojet engines, utilize atmospheric oxygen and so have a much better effective energy output per unit mass of propellant that must be carried, but are similar per unit mass of fuel. Computer programs that predict the performance of propellants in rocket engines are available. Gaseous propellants generally will not cause hard starts, with rockets the total injector area is less than the throat thus the chamber pressure tends to ambient prior to ignition and high pressures cannot form even if the entire chamber is full of flammable gas at ignition. Solid propellants are usually ignited with oneshot pyrotechnic devices. Once ignited, rocket chambers are selfsustaining and igniters are not needed. Indeed chambers often spontaneously reignite if they are restarted after being shut down for a few seconds. However, when cooled, many rockets

cannot be restarted without at least minor maintenance, such as replacement of the pyrotechnic igniter.

Electromagnetic Propulsion systems are much more effective in space where even a small change in reaction mass can be directly converted into kinetic energy with fewer losses due to negligible aerodynamic lag. These propulsion systems use the concept of containing the particles in magnetic field and releasing them out of the exhaust. The momentum of the particles gets converted into the kinetic energy of the spacecraft which gets propelled forward. There are various techniques used to achieve this. Some of them are listed below. 6 kW Hall thruster in operation at theNASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Hall thrusters operate on a variety of propellants, the most common being xenon. Other propellants of interest include krypton, argon, bismuth, magnesium, and zinc. Hall thrusters are able to accelerate their exhaust to speeds between 1080 km/s (10008000 s specific impulse), with most models operating between 1530 km/s (1500-3000 s specific impulse). The thrust produced by a Hall thruster varies depending on the power level. Devices operating at 1.35 kW produce about 83 mN of thrust. High power models have demonstrated up to 3 N in the laboratory. Power levels up to 100 kW have been demonstrated by xenon Hall thrusters. 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 an 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, 0.010.03 T) is used to confine the


In spacecraft propulsion, a Hall thruster is a type of ion thruster in which the propellant is accelerated by an electric field. Hall 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 thrusters are often regarded as a moderate specific impulse (1600 s) space propulsion technology

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.

powered arcjet engines capable of power outputs from 1 to 100 kW. The heated hydrogen reaches exit speeds of just under 10 miles per second (16 km/s). An arcjetpropelled test satellite by the name of BadenWrttemberg 1 (BW1) is scheduled to go to the moon.


Pulsed plasma thrusters are a method of spacecraft propulsion also known as Plasma Jet Engines in general. They use an arc of electric current adjacent to a solid propellant, to produce a quick and repeatable burst ARCJETS: of impulse. PPTs are excellent for attitude control, and for main propulsion on particularly Arcjets are a form of electric propulsion for spacecraft, whereby an electrical small spacecraft with a surplus of electricity (those in the hundred-kilogram or less discharge (arc) is created in a flow of category). However they are also one of the propellant (typically hydrazine or ammonia). least efficient electric propulsion systems, with This imparts additional energy to the a thrust efficiency of less than 10%. At present propellant, so that one can extract more work they are deployed in space vehicles and probes out of each kilogram of propellant, at the as space does not offer any frictional force expense of increased power consumption and when compared to that on earth. The extremely (usually) higher cost. Also, the thrust levels available from typically used arcjet engines are quick and repetitive thrust accelerates the space probe continuously. Thus it eventually reaches very low compared with chemical engines. When the energy is available, arcjets are well suited to station keeping in orbit and can replace monopropellant rockets. In Germany, researchers at the University of Stuttgart's Institute of Space Aviation Systems have been looking into these challenges for years and have developed various hydrogenand goes beyond the speeds of conventional propulsion systems. The electrical energy required to operate the arc mechanism is abundantly available by harnessing the solar energy via self-adjusting solar panels on the probe.

Schematic layout of a Pulsed Plasma Thruster PPTs have much higher exhaust velocity than chemical propulsion engines. According to the Tsiolkovsky equation this results in proportionally higher final velocity of propelled craft. The principle of operation is the electromagnetic acceleration of propellant via the Lorentz force to velocities of the order of tens of km/s - which is much higher than the thermal velocity of chemical engines. Chemical propulsion engines, with their limited rate of chemical reaction exhaust velocity (which is in the range of 2-4.5 km/s), become exponentially ineffective to achieve high interplanetary speeds (in the 20-70 km/s range, within the Solar System). Pulsed plasma thrusters were the first electric thrusters to be deployed in space, used for attitude control on the Soviet probes Zond 2, from parking at Earth orbit to Mars on November 30, 1964, and Zond 3 in 1965. The active gases used in the Soviet plasma propulsion engines were argon and helium. Soviet engineers subsequently returned to the use of high-pressure nitrogen jets.

Pulsed plasma thrusters were flown in November, 2000 as a flight experiment on the Earth Observing-1 spacecraft. The thrusters successfully demonstrated the ability to perform roll control on the spacecraft and also demonstrated that the electromagnetic interference from the pulsed plasma did not affect other spacecraft systems. These experiments used Teflon as the propellant.


The Magnetoplasmadynamic 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 arcjet. 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 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, hydrazine, and lithium have been used, with lithium generally being the best performer.

would allow use of electric propulsion on missions which require quick deltav maneuvers (such as capturing into orbit around another planet), but with many times greater fuel efficiency.

MPD thruster technology has been explored academically, but commercial interest has been low due to several remaining problems. One big problem is that power requirements on the order of hundreds of kilowatts are required for optimum performance. Current interplanetary spacecraft power systems (such as radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs)) and solar arrays are incapable of producing that much power. NASA's Project Prometheus reactor was expected to generate power in the hundreds of kilowatts range but was discontinued in 2005. A project to produce a space-going nuclear reactor designed to generate 600 kilowatts of electrical power began in 1963 and ran for most of the 1960s in the USSR. It was to power a communication satellite which was in the end not approved.2 Nuclear reactors supplying kilowatts of electrical power (of the order of ten times more than current RTG power supplies) have been orbited by the USSR: RORSAT; and TOPAZ. Plans to develop a megawatt-scale nuclear reactor for the use aboard a manned spaceship were announced in 2009 by Russian nuclear Kurchatov Institute, national space

CGI rendering of Princeton University's lithium-fed self-field MPD thruster (from Popular Mechanics magazine)

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 xenonbased 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) (45 lbf), by far the highest for any form of electric propulsion, and nearly as high as many interplanetary chemical rockets. This

it is now moving toward flight development. The MET uses an electrodeless, vortexstabilized microwave discharge to superheat gas for propulsion. In its simplest design, the MET uses a directly driven resonant cavity Another plan, proposed by Bradley C. empty of anything except gaseous propellant Edwards, is to beam power from the ground. and the microwave fields that heat it. It is a robust, simple, inexpensive thruster with high This plan utilizes five 200 kW free electron efficiency, and has been scaled successfully to lasers at 0.84 micrometres with adaptive operate at 100 W, 1 kW, and 50 kW using 7.5-, optics on the ground to beam power to the 2.45-, and 0.915-GHz microwaves MPD-powered spacecraft, where it is converted respectively. The 50-KW, 0.915-GHz test was perhaps the highest power demonstration of to electricity by GaAs photovoltaic panels. The any steady-state Electric thruster. The MET tuning of the laser wavelength of 0.840 can use a variety of gases for fuel but the use of water vapor has been shown to give superior micrometres (1.48 eV per photon) and the PV performance, with a measured specific impulse panel bandgap of 1.43 eV to each other (Isp) of greater than 800 s. When this added to produces an estimated conversion efficiency of the safety, ease of storage and transfer, and wide availability of water in space, the 59% and a predicted power density of up to 2 540 kW/m . This would be sufficient to power potential exists for using a water-fueled MET as the core propulsion system for refuelable a MPD upper stage, perhaps to lift satellites space platforms. from LEO to GEO. agency Roskosmos,6 and confirmed by the President of Russia in November 2009 address.7 Another problem with MPD technology has been the degradation of cathodes due to evaporation driven by high current densities (in excess of 100 amps/cm^2). The use of lithium and barium propellant mixtures and multichannel hollow cathodes has been shown in the laboratory to be a promising solution for the cathode erosion problem.


Field emission electric propulsion (FEEP) thrusters use a very simple system of accelerating liquid metal ions to create thrust. Most designs use either cesium or indium as the propellant. The design comprises a small propellant reservoir that stores the liquid metal,

a narrow tube that the liquid flows through, and an accelerator ring a millimetre past the tube end. Caesium and indium are used due to their high atomic weights, low ionization potentials, The research to develop the microwave electroand low melting points. Once the liquid metal thermal (MET) thruster at Research Support Instruments, Inc. (RSI) using a variety of gases reaches the end of the tube, an electric field as fuel is described. The MET has undergone applied between the emitter and the accelerator dramatic evolution since its first inception, and


ring causes the liquid surface to deform and emit positive ions.[11] The electric field created by the emitter and the accelerator ring then accelerates the ions. An external source of electrons then neutralizes the positively charged ion stream to prevent charging of the spacecraft hull.


The Variable Specific Impulse Magneto plasma Rocket (VASIMR) is an electromagnetic thruster for spacecraft propulsion. It uses radio waves to ionize and heat a propellant and magnetic fields to accelerate the resulting plasma to generate thrust. It is one of several types of spacecraft electric propulsion systems. The method of heating plasma used in VASIMR was originally developed as a result of research into nuclear fusion. VASIMR is intended to bridge the gap between high-thrust, low-specific impulse propulsion systems and low-thrust, high-specific impulse systems. VASIMR is capable of functioning in either mode. DESIGN AND SCHEMATIC


Pulsed inductive thrusters (PIT) use pulses of thrust instead of one continuous thrust, and have the ability to run on power levels in the order of Megawatts (MW). PITs consist of a large coil encircling a cone shaped tube that emits the propellant gas. Ammonia is the gas commonly used in PIT engines. For each pulse of thrust the PIT gives, a large charge first builds up in a group of capacitors behind the coil and is then released. This creates a current that moves circularly in the direction of j. The current then creates a magnetic field in the outward radial direction (Br), which then creates a current in the ammonia gas that has just been released in the opposite direction of the original current. This opposite current ionizes the ammonia and these positively

charged ions are accelerated away from the PIT engine due to the electric field j crossing with the magnetic field Br, which is due to Vasimr schematic the Lorentz Force. The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, sometimes referred to as the Electrothermal Plasma Thruster or Electro-thermal

Magneto plasma Rocket, uses radio waves2 to ionize and heat propellant, which generates plasma that is accelerated using magnetic fields to generate thrust. This type of engine is electrode less and as such belongs to the same electric propulsion family (while differing in the method of plasma acceleration) as the electrode less plasma thruster, the microwave arcjet, or the pulsed inductive thruster class. It can also be seen as an electrode less version of an arcjet, able to reach higher propellant temperature by limiting the heat flux from the plasma to the structure. Neither type of engine has any electrodes. The main advantage of such designs is elimination of problems with electrode erosion that cause rival designs of ion thrusters which use electrodes to have a short life expectancy. Furthermore, since every part of a VASIMR engine is magnetically shielded and does not come into direct contact with plasma, the potential durability of this engine design is greater than other ion/plasma engine designs.1 The engine design encompasses three parts: turning gas into plasma via helicon RF antennas; energizing plasma via further RF heating in an ion cyclotron resonance frequency (ICRF) booster; and using electromagnets to create a magnetic nozzle to convert the plasma's built-up thermal energy into kinetic force. By varying the amount of energy dedicated to RF heating and the amount of propellant delivered for plasma generation VASIMR is capable of either generating lowthrust, high-specific impulse exhaust or

relatively high-thrust, low-specific impulse exhaust.3


In contrast with usual cyclotron resonance heating processes, in VASIMR ions are immediately ejected through the magnetic nozzle, before they have time to achieve thermalized distribution. Based on novel theoretical work in 2004 by Arefiev and Breizman of UT-Austin, virtually all of the energy in the ion cyclotron wave is uniformly transferred to ionized plasma in a single-pass cyclotron absorption process. This allows for ions to leave the magnetic nozzle with a very narrow energy distribution, and for significantly simplified and compact magnet arrangement in the engine.3 VASIMR does not use electrodes; instead it magnetically shields plasma from most of the hardware parts, thus eliminating electrode erosion - a major source of wear and tear in ion engines. Compared to traditional rocket engines with very complex plumbing, high performance valves, actuators and turbopumps, VASIMR eliminates practically all moving parts from its design (apart from minor ones, like gas valves), maximizing its long term durability However, some new problems emerge, like interaction with strong magnetic fields and thermal management. The relatively large power at which VASIMR operates generates a lot of waste heat, which needs to be channeled

away without creating thermal overload and undue thermal stress on materials used. Powerful superconducting electromagnets, employed to contain hot plasma, generate teslarange magnetic fields.4They can present problems with other on board devices and also can produce unwanted torque by interacting with the magnetosphere. To counter this latter effect, the VF-200 will consist of two 100 kW thruster units packaged together, with the magnetic field of each thruster oriented in opposite directions in order to make a zerotorque magnetic quadrapole.

developed, and this was followed by a 200 kW prototype. After a long period of rigorous testing in a 150 m3 vacuum chamber, the latest configuration was deemed space-worthy, and it was announced that the company had entered into an agreement to test the engine on the International Space Station, in or before 2013. The first VASIMR engine model VX-50 proved to be capable of 0.5 newtons (0.1 lbf) thrust. Published data on the VX-50 engine, capable of processing 50 kW of total radio frequency power, showed thruster efficiency to be 59% calculated as: 90% NA coupling efficiency 65% NB ion speed boosting efficiency. It was hoped that the overall efficiency of the engine could be increased by scaling up power levels. Model VX-100 was expected to have a thruster efficiency of 72% by improving the NB ion speed boosting efficiency to 80%.78 There were, however, additional (smaller) efficiency losses related to the conversion of DC electric current to radio frequency power and also to the superconducting magnets' auxiliary equipment energy consumption. By comparison, 2009 state-of-the-art, proven ion engine designs such as NASA's HiPEP operated at 80% total thruster/PPU energy efficiency.9 Ongoing improvement to the engine design concentrate on increasing power level which should lead to higher efficiency level. In September 2011 the Ad Astra Company has published the results of first full scale tests of VX-200 engine. They confirm theoretical predictions measuring


The testing vacuum chamber, containing the 50kW VASIMR After many years researching the concept with NASA, Franklin Chang-Diaz set up the Ad Astra Rocket Company in January 2005 to begin development of the VASIMR engine. Later that year, the company signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA, and was granted control of the Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory. In this lab, a 50 kW prototype was constructed, and underwent testing in a vacuum chamber. Later, a 100 kW version was

thruster efficiency at 72% +/-9% at 200 kW power level with specific impulse of 4900s with corresponds to thrust level of 6N. This represents much higher thrust and power level than any other currently existing prototype of electric propulsion system.

unnecessary heat) critical to allowing for continuous operation of VASIMR engine. Between April and September 2009, tests were performed on the VX-200 prototype with fully integrated 2 Tesla superconducting magnets. They successfully expanded the power range of the VASIMR up to its full operational capability of 200 kW. During November 2010, long duration, full power firing tests were performed with the VX-200 engine reaching the steady state operation for 25 seconds thus validating basic design characteristics. Results presented to NASA and academia in January 2011 have confirmed that the design point for optimal efficiency on the VX-200 is 50 km/s exhaust velocity, or an Isp of 5000 s. Based on these data, thruster efficiency of 70 % has been deemed by Ad Astra to be achievable, yielding an overall system efficiency (DC electricity to thruster power) of 60 % (since the DC to RF power conversion efficiency exceeds 95 %).


On October 24, 2008 the company announced that the plasma generation aspect of the VX200 engine - helicon first stage or solid-state high frequency power transmitter - had reached operational status. The key enabling technology, solid-state DC-RF powerprocessing, has become very efficient reaching up to 98 % efficiency. The helicon discharge uses 30 kWe of radio waves to turn argon gas into plasma. The remaining 170 kWe of power is allocated for passing energy to, and acceleration of, plasma in the second part of the engine via ion cyclotron resonance heating.

Based on data released from previous VX-100 testing,4 it was expected that the VX-200 engine would have a system efficiency of 60TESTING ON THE SPACE STATION 65 % and thrust level of 5 N. Optimal specific On December 8, 2008, Ad Astra Company impulse appeared to be around 5000s using low signed an agreement with NASA to arrange the cost argon propellant. The specific power placement and testing of a flight version of the estimated at 1.5 kg/kW meant that this version VASIMR, the VF-200, on the International of the VASIMR engine would weigh only Space Station (ISS). As of February 2011, its about 300 kg. One of the remaining untested launch is anticipated to be in 2014, though it issues was potential vs actual thrust; that is, may be later. The Taurus II has been reported whether the hot plasma actually detached from as the "top contender" for the launch the rocket. Another issue was waste heat vehicle. Since the available power from the ISS management (60 % efficiency means about is less than 200 kW, the ISS VASIMR will (100 %-60 %)/100 %*200 kW = 80 kW of

include a trickle-charged battery system allowing for 15 min pulses of thrust. Testing of the engine on ISS is valuable because it orbits at a relatively low altitude and experiences fairly high levels of atmospheric drag, making periodic boosts of altitude necessary. Currently, altitude reboosting by chemical rockets fulfills this requirement. If the tests of VASIMR reboosting of the ISS goes according to plan, the increase in specific impulse could mean that the cost of fuel for altitude reboosting will be one-twentieth of the current $210 million annual cost. Hydrogen generated by the ISS as a by-product is currently vented into space but will be redirected to the VASIMR to act as the fuel in place of the current Argon. VF-200 The VF-200 flight-rated thruster consists of two 100 kW VASIMR units with opposite magnetic dipoles so that no net rotational torque is applied to the space station when the thrusters are firing. The VF200-1 is the first flight unit and will be tested in space attached to the ISS.

VASIMR is not suitable to launch payloads from the surface of the Earth due to its low thrust-to-weight ratio and its need of a vacuum to operate. Instead, it would function as an upper stage for cargo, reducing the fuel requirements for in-space transportation. The engine is expected to perform the following functions at a fraction of the cost of chemical technologies:

drag compensation for space stations lunar cargo delivery satellite repositioning satellite refueling, maintenance and repair in space resource recovery ultra-fast deep space robotic missions

Other applications for VASIMR such as the rapid transportation of people to Mars would require a very high power, low mass energy source, such as a nuclear reactor (see nuclear electric rocket). NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that VASIMR technology could be the breakthrough technology that would reduce the travel time on a Mars mission from months to days.17 In August 2008, Tim Glover, Ad Astra director of development, publicly stated that the first expected application of VASIMR engine is "hauling things non-human cargo from lowEarth orbit to low-lunar orbit" supporting NASA's return to Moon efforts.18


VASIMR magnetic field

USE AS A SPACE TUG OR ORBITAL NASA specs' OTV (including structure, solar TRANSFER VEHICLE array, fuel tank, avionics, propellant and cargo)
was assumed to be 100 metric tons (98.4 long 19 VASIMR-powered spacecraft is transportation tons; 110 short tons) allowing almost double the cargo capacity compared to chemically of cargo. Numerous studies have shown that, despite longer transit times, VASIMR-powered propelled vehicle but requiring even bigger solar arrays (or other source of power) capable spacecraft will be much more efficient than of providing 2 MW. traditional integrated chemical rockets at moving goods through space. An orbital As of October 2010, Ad Astra Rocket The most important near-future application of transfer vehicle (OTV) essentially a "space tug" powered by a single VF-200 engine would be capable of transporting about 7 metric tons of cargo from low Earth orbit (LEO) to low Lunar orbit (LLO) with about a six month transit time. NASA envisages delivering about 34 metric tons of useful cargo to LLO in a single flight with a chemically propelled vehicle. To make that trip, about 60 metric tons of LOX-LH2 propellant would be burned. A comparable OTV would need to employ 5 VF-200 engines powered by a 1 MW solar array. To do the same job, such OTV would need to expend only about 8 metric tons of argon propellant. Total mass of such electric OTV would be in the range of 49 t (outbound & return fuel: 9 t, hardware: 6 t, cargo 34 t). The OTV transit times can be reduced by carrying lighter loads and/or expending more argon propellant with VASIMR throttled down to lower Isp. For instance, an empty OTV on the return trip to Earth covers the distance in about 23 days at optimal specific impulse of 5,000 s (50 kNs/kg) or in about 14 days at Isp of 3,000 s (30 kNs/kg). The total mass of the Company is working toward utilizing VASIMR technology for space tug missions to help "clean up the ever-growing problem of space trash." They hope to have a firstgeneration commercial offering by 2014.


In order to reduce the size and weight of the magnet of the magnetic sail, it may be possible to inflate the magnetic field using a plasma in the same way that the plasma around the Earth stretches out the Earth's magnetic field in the magnetosphere. In this approach, called mini-magnetospheric plasma propulsion (M2P2), currents running through the plasma augment and partially replace the currents in the coil. This is expected to be especially useful far from the Sun, where the increased effective size of a M2P2 sail compensates for the reduced dynamic pressure of the solar wind. The original NASA design proposes a spacecraft containing a can-shaped electromagnet into which a plasma is injected. The plasma pressure stretches the magnetic field and inflates a bubble of plasma around

the spacecraft. The current in the plasma in this case augments and partially replaces current in the coils. The plasma then generates a kind of miniaturized magnetosphere around the spacecraft, analogous to the magnetosphere that surrounds the Earth. The protons and electrons which make up the solar wind are deflected by this magnetosphere and the reaction accelerates the spacecraft. The thrust of the M2P2 device would be steerable to some extent, potentially allowing the spacecraft to 'tack' into the solar wind and allowing efficient changes of orbit. In the case of the (M2P2) system the spacecraft releases gas to create the plasma needed to maintain the somewhat leaky plasma bubble. The M2P2 system therefore has an effective specific impulse which is the amount of gas consumed per newton of thrust. This is a figure of merit usually used for rockets, where the fuel is actually reaction mass. Robert Winglee, who originally proposed the M2P2 technique, calculates a specific impulse of 200 kNs/kg (roughly 50 times better than the space shuttle main engine). These calculations suggest that the system requires on the order of a kilowatt of power per newton of thrust, considerably lower than electric thrusters, and that the system generates the same thrust anywhere within the heliopause because the sail spreads automatically as the solar wind becomes less dense. However, this technique is less well understood than the simpler magnetic sail and issues of how large and heavy the magnetic coil would have to be[5][6] or whether the momentum from the solar wind can be efficiently transferred to the spacecraft are under dispute. The expansion of the magnetic field using plasma injected has been successfully tested in a large

vacuum chamber on Earth, but the development of thrust was not part of the experiment. A beampowered variant,MagBeam,[8] is also under development.


A magnetic sail in a wind of charged particles. The sail generates a magnetic field, represented by red arrows, which deflects the particles into the page. The force on the sail is out of the page.

When operating away from planetary magnetospheres, a magnetic sail would force the positively charged protons of the solar wind to curve as they passed through the magnetic field. The change of momentum of the protons would thrust against the magnetic field, and thus against the field coil. Just as with solar sails, magnetic sails can "tack." If a magnetic sail orients at an angle relative to the solar wind, charged particles are deflected preferentially to one side and the

magnetic sail is pushed laterally. This means that magnetic sails could maneuver to most orbits. In this mode, the amount of thrust generated by a magnetic sail falls off with the square of its distance from the Sun as the flux density of charged particles reduces. Solar weather also has major effects on the sail. It is possible that the plasma eruption from a severe solar flare could damage an efficient, fragile sail. A common misconception is that a magnetic sail cannot exceed the speed of the plasma pushing it. As the speed of a magnetic sail increases, its acceleration becomes more dependent on its ability to tack efficiently. At high speeds, the plasma wind's direction will seem to come increasingly from the front of the spacecraft. Advanced sailing spacecraft might deploy field coils as "keels," so the spacecraft could use the difference in vector between the solar magnetic field and the solar wind, much as sailing yachts do.

smaller than the rightward force on the right side of the ring, and the net force on the sail is to the right. Inside a planetary magnetosphere, a magnetic sail can thrust against a planet's magnetic field, especially in an orbit that passes over the planet's magnetic poles, in a similar manner to an electrodynamic tether. The range of maneuvers available to a magnetic sail inside a planetary magnetosphere is more limited than in a plasma wind. Just as with the more familiar small-scale magnets used on Earth, a magnetic sail can only be attracted towards the magnetosphere's poles or repelled from them, depending on its orientation. When the magnetic sail's field is oriented in the opposite direction to the magnetosphere it experiences a force inward and toward the nearest pole, and when it is oriented in the same direction as the magnetosphere it experiences the opposite effect. A magnetic sail oriented in the same direction as the magnetosphere is not stable, and will have to prevent itself from being flipped over to the opposite orientation by some other means. The thrust that a magnetic sail delivers within a magnetosphere decreases with the fourth power of its distance from the planet's internal magnetic dynamo.


A magnetic sail in a spatially varying magnetic field. Because the vertical external field Bext is stronger on one side than the other, the leftward force on the left side of the ring is

This limited maneuvering capability is still quite useful. By varying the magnetic sail's field strength over the course of its orbit, a

magnetic sail can give itself a "perigee kick" raising the altitude of its orbit's apogee. Repeating this process with each orbit can drive the magnetic sail's apogee higher and higher, until the magnetic sail is able to leave the planetary magnetosphere and catch the solar wind. The same process in reverse can be used to lower or circularize the apogee of a magsail's orbit when it arrives at a destination planet. In theory, it is possible for a magnetic sail to launch directly from the surface of a planet near one of its magnetic poles, repelling itself from the planet's magnetic field. However, this requires the magnetic sail to be maintained in its "unstable" orientation. A launch from Earth requires superconductors with 80 times the current density of the best known hightemperature superconductors.

This removes any fuel requirements for the deceleration half of an interstellar journey, which would benefit interstellar travel enormously. The magsail was first proposed for this purpose in 1985 by Robert Zubrin and Dana Andrews, predating other uses, and evolved from a concept of the Bussard ramjet which used a magnetic scoop to collect interstellar material. Magnetic sails could also be used with beampowered propulsion by using a highpower particle accelerator to fire a beam of charged particles at the spacecraft.[9] The magsail would deflect this beam, transferring momentum to the vehicle. This would provide much higher acceleration than a solar sail driven by a laser, but a charged particle beam would disperse in a shorter distance than a laser due to the electrostatic repulsion of its component particles. This dispersion problem could potentially be resolved by accelerating a stream of sails which then in turn transfer their momentum to a magsail vehicle, as proposed by Jordin Kare

Interstellar space contains very small amounts of hydrogen. A fast-moving sail would ionize this hydrogen by accelerating the electrons in one direction and the oppositely charged protons in the other direction. The energy for the ionization and cyclotron radiation would come from the spacecraft's kinetic energy, slowing the spacecraft. The cyclotron radiation from the acceleration of particles would be an easily detected howl in radio frequencies. Thus, in interstellar spaceflight outside the heliopause of a star a magnetic sail could act as a parachute to decelerate a spacecraft.

Someday, space agencies might fling satellites through space on mere grams of fuel. How will they do it? Fusion. In a fusion reactor scheme conceived by John J. Chapman, a physicist and electronics engineer at NASAs Langley Research Center, in Hampton, Va., a commercially available benchtop laser starts the reaction: It zaps a two-layer target with a beam that

generates a teravolt-per-meter electric field. This sets off a chain reaction in which protons are explosively ejected from the metal in the targets first layer and then strike the second layer, a film of boron-11. For each boron atom that one of these energetic protons strikes, three alpSha particles are released, each with a kinetic energy of 2.9 megaelectron volts. Electromagnetic forces push the target and the alpha particles in opposite directions, and the particles exit the spacecraft through a nozzle, providing the vehicles thrust. Even at 50 percent efficiency, burning off 40 milligrams of the boron fuel would deliver a gigajoule of energy, according to Chapman.

elimination of both rocket fuel and rocket engines -- replacing them with sails. Yes, that's right, sails. NASA is one of the organizations that has been studying this amazing technology called solar sails that will use the sun's power to send us into deep space. Scientists have discovered that sunlight does exert enough force to move objects. To take advantage of this force, NASA has been experimenting with giant solar sails that could be pushed through the cosmos by light. There are three components to a solar sailpowered spacecraft:

Continuous force exerted by sunlight A large, ultrathin mirror A separate launch vehicle

A solar sail-powered spacecraft does not need traditional propellant for power, because its propellant is sunlight and the sun is its engine. Light is composed of electromagnetic radiation that exerts force on objects it comes in contact with. NASA researchers have found that at 1 astronomical unit (AU), which is the distance from the sun to Earth, equal to 93 million miles (150 million km), sunlight can produce about 1.4 kilowatts (kw) of power. If you take 1.4 kw and divide it by the speed of light, you would find that the force exerted by the sun is about 9 newtons (N)/square mile (i.e., 2 lb/km2 or .78 lb/mi2). In comparison, a space shuttle main engine can produce 1.67 SOLAR SAIL: million N of force during liftoff and 2.1 million N of thrust in a vacuum. Eventually, however, International space agencies and some private the continuous force of the sunlight on a solar corporations have proposed many methods of sail could propel a spacecraft to speeds five transportation that would allow us to go farther, times faster than traditional rockets. but a manned space mission has yet to go beyond the moon. The most realistic of these space transportation options calls for the


While solar sails have been designed before (NASA's had a solar sail program back in the 1970s), materials available until the last decade or so were much too heavy to design a practical solar sailing vehicle. Besides being lightweight, the material must be highly reflective and able to tolerate extreme temperatures. The giant sails being tested by NASA today are made of very lightweight, reflective material that is upwards of 100 times thinner than an average sheet of stationery. This "aluminized, temperature-resistant material" is called CP-1. Another organization that is developing solar sail technology, the Planetary Society (a private, non-profit group based in Pasadena, California), supports the Cosmos 1, which boasts solar sails that are made of aluminum-reinforced Mylar and are approximately one fourth the thickness of a one-ply plastic trash bag. The reflective nature of the sails is key. As photons (light particles) bounce off the reflective material, they gently push the sail along by transferring momentum to the sail. Because there are so many photons from sunlight, and because they are constantly hitting the sail, there is a constant pressure (force per unit area) exerted on the sail that produces a constant acceleration of the spacecraft. Although the force on a solar-sail spacecraft is less than a conventional chemical rocket, such as the space shuttle, the solar-sail spacecraft constantly accelerates over time and achieves a greater velocity. You might be wondering what happens when the spacecraft finds itself far from sunlight. An onboard laser could take over providing the necessary propulsion to the sails.


With just sunlight as power, a solar sail would never be launched directly from the ground. A second spacecraft is needed to launch the solar sail, which would then be deployed in space. Another possible way to launch a solar sail would be with microwave or laser beams provided by a satellite or other spacecraft. These energy beams could be directed at the sail to launch it into space and provide a secondary power source during its journey. In one experiment at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), sails were driven to liftoff using microwave beams, while laser beams were used to push the sail forward.Once launched, the sails are deployed using an inflatable boom system that is triggered by a built-in deployment mechanism.


Solar sail technology will eventually play a key role in long-distance NASA missions. But just how far will these solar sails be able to take us and how fast will they get us there? As we found out in the last section, solar sails would not initially be driven by the amount of force that is used to launch the space shuttle. NASA believes that the exploration of space is similar to the tale of the "Tortoise and the Hare," with rocket-propelled spacecraft being the hare. In this race, the rocket-propelled spacecraft will quickly jump out, moving quickly toward its destination. On the other hand, a rocket less spacecraft powered by a solar sail would begin its journey at a slow but steady pace, gradually picking up speed as the sun continues to exert force upon it. Sooner or later, no matter how fast it goes, the rocket ship

will run out of power. In contrast, the solar sail craft has an endless supply of power from the sun. Additionally, the solar sail could potentially return to Earth, whereas the rocket powered vehicle would not have any propellant to bring it back. As it continues to be pushed by sunlight, the solar sail-propelled vehicle will build up speeds that rocket powered vehicles would never be able to achieve. Such a vehicle would eventually travel at about 56 mi/sec (90 km/sec), which would be more than 200,000 mph (324,000 kph). That speed is about 10 times faster than the space shuttle's orbital speed of 5 mi/sec (8 km/sec). To give you an idea how fast that is, you could travel from New York to Los Angeles in less than a minute with a solar sail vehicle traveling at top speed. If NASA were to launch an interstellar probe powered by solar sails, it would take only eight years for it to catch the Voyager 1 spacecraft (the most distant spacecraft from Earth), which has been traveling for more than 20 years. By adding a laser or magnetic beam transmitter, NASA said it could push speeds to 18,600 mi/sec (30,000 km/sec), which is one-tenth the speed of light. At those speeds, interstellar travel would be an almost certainty.