Design of a High-energy, Two-stage Pulsed Plasma Thruster


T.E. Markusic and Y.C.F. Thio (Propulsion Research Center, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center)

J.T. Cassibry (University of Alabama in Huntsville)

Document type:

AIAA Paper: AIAA-2002-4125, Presented at the 38th Joint Propulsion Conference, Indianapolis, IN, July 7-10, 2002.


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Design details of a proposed high-energy (~50 kJ/pulse), two-stage pulsed plasma thruster are presented. The long-term goal of this project is to develop a high-power (~500 kW), high specific impulse (~7500 s), highly efficient (>50%), and mechanically simple thruster for use as primary propulsion in a high-power nuclear electric propulsion system. The proposed thruster (PRC-PPT1) utilizes a valveless, liquid lithium-fed thermal plasma injector (first stage) followed by a high-energy pulsed electromagnetic accelerator (second stage). A numerical circuit model coupled with one-dimensional current sheet dynamics, as well as a numerical MHD simulation, are used to qualitatively predict the thermal plasma injection and current sheet dynamics, as well as to estimate the projected performance of the thruster. A set of further modelling efforts, and the experimental testing of a prototype thruster, is suggested to determine the feasibility of demonstrating a full scale high-power thruster.

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