Chemical propulsion is inefficient for missions across our solar system. For example, the Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, took over 30 years to leave the solar system. To travel any significant distance, a very large mass of chemical propellant is required. Additionally, the speeds achievable by chemical propulsion are not fast enough for humans to reach destinations like Mars in a timely manner.
The Advanced Propulsion Lab (APL) researches and develops techniques that can provide substantial reductions in cost and space travel time. Specifically, we research electric propulsion systems and methods for increasing the efficiency and exhaust velocity of their thrusters.
Electric propulsion systems create electric and magnetic fields that accelerate propellant (plasma) to velocities more than an order of magnitude higher than what chemical propulsion can achieve.
We look at how these electric propulsion systems can be used for high-altitude atmospheric operation in pressure regime between where typical propeller (higher pressure) and in-space chemical (lower pressure) propulsion systems can operate.