Plasma thruster breakthrough as researchers discover how to control magnetic fields in the radical engines

Plasma thruster breakthrough as researchers discover how to control magnetic fields in the radical engines

  • New experiments shed light on environmental factors that influence plasma flow
  • Study identified transition that could allow plasma flow to guide magnetic field 
  • This occurs while thrust is maintained, and at slower velocity than expected 

New experiments to uncover the factors that influence plasma flow could bring scientists closer to achieving an electrodeless plasma thruster.

In space, it’s known that magnetic field lines become stretched by plasma flows, causing them to increase – but in the lab, scientists have found that the opposite occurs, causing the magnetic field to decrease.

Based on these interactions, researchers are working to create thrusters that use an expanding magnetic field, in which plasma is accelerated to propel a spacecraft.

Scientists have now identified the transition point that could allow plasma flow to guide the magnetic field toward space while still maintaining thrust, in what could help overcome one of the technology’s biggest challenges.

Researchers are working to create thrusters that use an expanding magnetic field, in which plasma is accelerated to propel a spacecraft. In the image above, the applied magnetic field lines are shown in blue, and those modified by plasma are shown in red 

Researchers are working to create thrusters that use an expanding magnetic field, in which plasma is accelerated to propel a spacecraft. In the image above, the applied magnetic field lines are shown in blue, and those modified by plasma are shown in red

THE CASE FOR PLASMA THRUSTERS

It’s hoped that plasma thrusters could be used to propel spacecraft and satellites once they’ve reached space.

In space, craft rely on propulsion to carry out maneuvers including orbital station-keeping, supply missions and space exploration.

While electric propulsion is typically used as it has less propellant than chemical rockets, exposing the components to electrodes can cause erosion over time.

The new technique would allow for large thrust density without exposing the electrodes to plasma, ultimately reducing wear and tear.

Plasma, an extremely hot gas with electrically charged particles, is found all throughout the universe and is influenced by environmental forces, such as magnetic fields.

The complex behaviours observed in space and in the lab suggest plasma can generate the magnetic field in the opposite direction to the one applied, according to the researchers from Tohoku University.

This causes the field lines to diverge, much like magnets with their North poles facing toward each other.

Recent efforts to create plasma thrusters rely on an expanding magnetic field known as the magnetic nozzle (MN).

But, the technique has been faced with challenges.

In the lab, the magnetic fields are closed and turned back toward the spacecraft.

This, in turn, causes the plasma to turn back as well, resulting in a net thrust of zero…..More Here

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