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Magnetic Reconnection Hollow Cathode Thruster

Project description

New magnetic thruster concept exploits the mechanism behind solar flares

High-efficiency electric thrusters are fundamental for deep space planetary missions to Moon, Mars, Jupiter and beyond. Further performance improvements rely on scaling up the design of ion thrusters, but this adds to spacecraft size and weight. Funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, the MaRe-HCT project aims to overcome this challenge by developing a novel thruster whose main acceleration mechanism will be based on magnetic reconnection. Magnetic reconnection occurs in solar flares, Earth’s magnetosphere and laboratory plasmas; the magnetic topology is rearranged, and magnetic energy is converted to kinetic energy, thermal energy and particle acceleration. With the proposed acceleration mechanism, electric thrusters could attain a specific impulse value of 50 000 s, at least one order of magnitude higher than those achieved by state-of-the-art propulsion systems.


The goal of this project is the realization of a novel space electric thruster concept based on magnetic reconnection as acceleration mechanism and on a hollow cathode as plasma source. Electric propulsion (EP) is fundamental to enable the foreseen human and robotic missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, which require adequate propulsion system to deliver the needed delta-V. The current strategy to develop such high specific impulse and high thrust EP system entails the scaling up process of well-known EP systems such as ion and Hall thrusters. However, this strategy depends mostly on the thruster footprint, which will impact the spacecraft dimensions and weight. We believe that an effort has to be made to conceive a novel propulsion concept, overcoming the present limits. Magnetic reconnection is a topological rearrangement of interacting field lines that produces a configuration of lower magnetic energy, an outflowing plasma, and the acceleration and heating of charged particles. Magnetic reconnection is preponderant in solar flares, coronal jets, Earth’s and planetary magnetosphere. Potentially, it can be employed as main acceleration mechanism of a novel thruster concept. Within MaRe-HCT (Magnetic Reconnection Hollow Cathode Thruster), we propose a thruster concept based on magnetic reconnection to accelerate the plasma jet and on well-known flight-proven hollow cathodes as plasma source, to obtain a high specific impulse and high thrust EP system. It can potentially guarantee up to 50000s of specific impulse, at least one order of magnitude higher than the values achievable by state-of-art propulsion systems.
MaRe-HCT will give the researcher the chance to grow as an independent and mature researcher while expanding her expertise in electric propulsion and plasma physics. At the same time, it will provide the beneficiary the opportunity to broaden its research activities to novel EP concepts and plasma physics open topics such as magnetic reconnection.


Net EU contribution
€ 189 687,36
Keplerstrasse 7
70174 Stuttgart

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Baden-Württemberg Stuttgart Stuttgart, Stadtkreis
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
No data

Participants (1)