Electrodeless Plasma Thrusters (EPTs) are a new type of space propulsion that promises to overcome the limitations of traditional electric propulsion technologies and to offer unparalleled advantages in terms of power scaling, throttling range, lifetime, propellant types, and simplicity. Nevertheless, EPT development is currently stuck due to the incomplete understanding of their physics, in particular electromagnetic (EM) plasma heating and anomalous transport. Additionally, the cylindrical geometry of existing EPT designs has inherent issues, with high plasma losses and erosion at the rear wall of the ionization chamber and a wide divergence of the generated plasma jet. ZARATHUSTRA aims to unravel the physical underpinnings of EPTs and revolutionize their design by accomplishing three objectives: (1) establish the first self-consistent model of EM plasma heating in these devices; (2) elucidate the role of plasma turbulence, wall interactions, and applied EM fields on anomalous transport and devise control solutions to minimize plasma losses; and (3) assess the feasibility and advantages of a disruptive non-cylindrical EPT concept. This will be made possible thanks to a unique multidisciplinary methodology based on: a ground-breaking two-level numerical simulation strategy with a novel electromagnetic-kinetic algorithm; state-of-the-art experimental measurements; advanced data analysis techniques; and thruster bread-board prototype development. As a result, the first complete theory of EM heating and anomalous transport in EPTs will be formulated, and the path will be paved for the development of a new generation of plasma thrusters with unsurpassed characteristics and performances. While the high ambition of the project represents high risk, this is more than compensated by the potential high gain: uncovering the physical mechanisms of EPTs, unblocking their progress, and claiming for Europe a privileged leadership position in this strategic field.
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