Plasma research for future ion propulsion system for space

March 06, 2012
In an official ceremony late February, the MPE received a certificate as an associated partner in the LOEWE-priority project "RITSAT - ion propulsion system for space" presented by the Hessian Ministry of Science and Arts. The MPE, led by Prof. Markus Thoma from the "Theory and Complex Plasmas" group will participate in the project area "Plasma Modeling" to test and model new engine concepts with simulations.

The RITSAT project is located at the University of Giessen, which already has a long tradition in the field of ion drives for satellites and spacecraft. With the new project, the Giessen scientists will contribute to the development of new propulsion systems for the upcoming science missions of DLR and ESA. The Technische Hochschule Mittelhessen is a partner, the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research GmbH in Darmstadt and the DLR Göttingen are associated partners. The LOEWE focus project is funded with close to 3.8 million € from 2012 to 2014.

The project area plasma modelling, where the MPE is involved, is based on the optimization of the propulsion system. Compared to constructing and testing of an actual engine, a simulation provides a quick way to test a new engine concept. Furthermore, simulations provide wider and unbiased information to derive the optimal design. Another main area is the optimization of the vacuum system for engine testing at lower pressures, especially with an extrapolation to space conditions. The simulation here has the special ability to actually predict engine characteristics in space. So far, those can only be estimated from previous test flights in space.

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