Electrodeless device shows promise for pushing boundaries of space travel: study

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Space missions already use electric propulsion devices, where electromagnetic fields are used to generate spacecraft thrust. Such an electrodeless device, which harnesses radio frequency (rf) to generate plasma and a magnetic (MN) nozzle to channel and accelerate the plasma, has shown tremendous promise in pushing the boundaries of space travel. But scientists have so far failed to efficiently convert RF power into thrust energy. Now, a researcher has achieved an astonishing 30% conversion efficiency. Innovations in ground transportation technologies, such as cars, trains, and planes, have so far driven historic technologies and industries; now, a similar breakthrough is occurring in space through electric propulsion technology.

Electric propulsion is a technique using electromagnetic fields to accelerate a thruster and generate thrust that propels a spacecraft. Space agencies have pioneered electric propulsion technology as the future of space exploration. Already, several space missions have been successfully completed using electric propulsion devices, such as grid ion thrusters and Hall thrusters. Solar energy is converted into thrust energy when the thruster becomes ionized, i.e. plasma, and is accelerated by electromagnetic fields. However, the electrodes necessary for these devices limit their lifetime, because they are exposed and damaged by the plasma, in particular at a high power level.

To circumvent this, scientists turned to electrodeless plasma thrusters. One such technology uses radio frequency (rf) to generate plasma. An antenna radiates radio waves into a cylindrical chamber to create plasma, where a magnetic nozzle channels and accelerates the plasma to generate thrust. MN RF plasma thrusters, or helicon thrusters as they are sometimes called, offer simplicity, operational flexibility and a potentially high thrust-to-power ratio. But the development of MN RF plasma thrusters has been hampered by the efficiency of converting RF power to thrust energy. Early experiments generated single-digit conversion rates, but more recent studies have reached a modest 20%.

In a recent study, Professor Kazunori Takahashi from the Department of Electrical Engineering at Tohoku University achieved a conversion efficiency of 30%. While mature electric thrusters often use xenon gas, which is expensive and difficult to supply in sufficient quantities, the current 30% efficiency has been achieved with an argon thruster. This indicates that an RF MN plasma thruster would reduce the cost and burden on Earth’s resources.

“Applying a cusp-like magnetic field inhibited the energy loss that typically occurs at the wall of the plasma source,” Takahashi said. “This breakthrough opens the door to advances in high-powered space transportation technology.” (ANI)

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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