Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

ESA Accelerates Towards A New Space Thruster

Date:
December 14, 2005
Source:
European Space Agency
Summary:
The European Space Agency has confirmed the principle of a new space thruster that may ultimately give much more thrust than today's electric propulsion techniques. The concept is an ingenious one, inspired by the northern and southern aurorae, the glows in the sky that signal increased solar activity.

Helicon reactor in operation.
Credit: s: LPTP, Ecole Polytechnique

The European Space Agency has confirmed the principle of a new space thruster that may ultimately give much more thrust than today’s electric propulsion techniques. The concept is an ingenious one, inspired by the northern and southern aurorae, the glows in the sky that signal increased solar activity.

“Essentially the concept exploits a natural phenomenon we see taking place in space,” says Dr Roger Walker of ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team. "When the solar wind, a ‘plasma’ of electrified gas released by the Sun, hits the magnetic field of the Earth, it creates a boundary consisting of two plasma layers. Each layer has differing electrical properties and this can accelerate some particles of the solar wind across the boundary, causing them to collide with the Earth’s atmosphere and create the aurora."

In essence, a plasma double layer is the electrostatic equivalent of a waterfall. Just as water molecules pick up energy as they fall between the two different heights, so electrically charged particles pick up energy as they travel through the layers of different electrical properties.

Researchers Christine Charles and Rod Boswell at the Australian National University in Canberra, first created plasma double layers in their laboratory in 2003 and realised their accelerating properties could enable new spacecraft thrusters. This led the group to develop a prototype called the Helicon Double Layer Thruster.
The new ESA study, performed as part of ESA’s Ariadna academic research programme in association with Ecole Polytechnique, Paris, confirms the Australian findings by showing that under carefully controlled conditions, the double layer could be formed and remains stable, allowing the constant acceleration of charged particles in a beam. The study also confirmed that stable double layers could be created with different propellant gas mixtures.

“The collaboration has been absolutely excellent,” says Dr Pascal Chabert, of Laboratoire de Physique et Technologie des Plasmas, Ecole Polytechnique. “It has been a real kick-off for me and has given me lots of new ideas for plasma propulsion concepts to investigate with the Advanced Concepts Team. The new direction for our laboratory had led to a patent on a promising new electric propulsion device called an Electronegative Plasma Thruster.”

To create the double layer, Chabert and colleagues created a hollow tube around which was wound a radio antenna. Argon gas was continuously pumped into the tube and the antenna transmitted helicoidal radio waves of 13 megahertz. This ionised the argon creating a plasma. A diverging magnetic field at the end of the tube then forced the plasma leaving the pipe to expand. This allowed two different plasmas to be formed, upstream within the tube and downstream, and so the double layer was created at their boundary. This accelerated further argon plasma from the tube into a supersonic beam, creating thrust.
Calculations suggest that a helicon double layer thruster would take up a little more space than the main electric thruster on ESA’s SMART-1 mission, yet it could potentially deliver many times more thrust at higher powers of up to 100 kW whilst giving a similar fuel efficiency.

In the next steps, ESA will now construct a detailed computer simulation of the plasma in and around the thruster and use the laboratory results to verify its accuracy, so that the in-space performance can be fully assessed and larger high power experimental thrusters can be investigated in the future.



Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Space Agency. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

European Space Agency. "ESA Accelerates Towards A New Space Thruster." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 December 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051214082129.htm>.
European Space Agency. (2005, December 14). ESA Accelerates Towards A New Space Thruster. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051214082129.htm
European Space Agency. "ESA Accelerates Towards A New Space Thruster." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051214082129.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA EDGE: OCO-2 Launch

NASA EDGE: OCO-2 Launch

NASA (July 25, 2014) NASA EDGE webcasts live from Vandenberg AFB for the launch of the Oribiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO) launch. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

NASA (July 25, 2014) Apollo 11 celebration, Next Giant Leap anticipation, ISS astronauts appear in the House and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Coming and Going

Space to Ground: Coming and Going

NASA (July 25, 2014) One station cargo ship leaves, another arrives, aquatic research and commercial spinoffs. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins