January 24, 2023

Plasma thrusters used on satellites could be much more powerful than previously believed

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2023-01-25 03:00:11

January 24, 2023

It has been believed that Hall thrusters, an efficient kind of electric propulsion widely used in orbit, must be large to produce a lot of thrust. Now, a new study from the University of Michigan suggests that smaller Hall thrusters can generate much more thrust—potentially making them candidates for interplanetary missions.

"People had previously thought that you could only push a certain amount of current through a thruster area, which in turn translates directly into how much force or thrust you can generate per unit area," said Benjamin Jorns, U-M associate professor of aerospace engineering who led the new Hall thruster study to be presented at the AIAA SciTech Forum in National Harbor, Maryland, today.

His team challenged this limit by running a 9 kilowatt Hall thruster up to 45 kilowatts, maintaining roughly 80% of its nominal efficiency. This increased the amount of force generated per unit area by almost a factor of 10.

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