The University of Southampton

Tony Davies High Voltage Laboratory Wins EPSRC Grant on Developing Novel Optimization Tools for Spacecraft Propulsion Engine

Published: 30 January 2015

In late 2014, the Tony Davies High Voltage Laboratory (TDHVL) was granted £40,000 by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to conduct cutting-edge research on development of a modelling tool for performance optimization in pulsed plasma thrusters (Ref. EP/M506783/1). The project is jointly led by Prof. Alun Vaughan, Prof. Steve Gabriel, and Dr Igor Golosnoy from TDHVL, and supported by Mars Space Ltd, UK.

The pulsed plasma thruster (PPT), also known as plasma jet engine, is generally considered the simplest form of electric spacecraft propulsion and was the first propulsion engine utilised in space (i.e. Soviet Zond 2 probe, 1964). TDHVL has a number of experienced researchers, that means both numerical simulation and prototype testing of new devices can be conducted simultaneously, which makes the lab one of the top research institutes in this field in the UK.

The overall aim of the project is to develop a numerical model for PPTs which will allow their performance to be optimized. In detail, the project novelty lies in the approach to plasma modelling which particularly examines non-equilibrium electron distributions, cathode electron current emission, and in-sheet non-uniform electron density distributions. The first stage of the project is scheduled for 12 months and hopefully will be extended into a long-term project with further funding. This project utilises not only TDHVL’s knowledge and research ability in numerical modelling techniques, but also its research strengths in state-of-the-art plasma and space science.

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