Advanced Electric Propulsion

Chemical rockets have limited application for space applications due to the fact that the fuel is relatively slow (low specific impulse) relative to the speeds needed to move efficiently about the solar system. As a results chemcial systems are massive, and the trip times for missions are very long. Research at UW in this area is for the development of faster propellants that can provide substantial reductions in cost and trip time. To achieve these efficiencies plasma systems (i.e. charged particles) are required where electric and magnetic field can be used to accelerate the plasma propellants to speeds more than an order of magnitude faster than can be achieved by chemical rockets. The systems below detail devices under active development.

Who we are:

  • Robert Winglee
  • B. Race Roberson

    Areas of Active Interest:

    High Power Helicon is an electrodeless plasma thruster that is able run at kW to 100s of kW to produce thruster levels as high as several Newtons of force, at high power and gas effciency.
    Mini-Magnetospheric Plasma Propulsion (M2P2) is a system that can leverage energy from the solar wind to augument the onboard propulsion for spacecraft while minimizing the spacecraft power requires. Potential for radiation shielding is still under investigation.

    MagBeam combines the key features of M2P2 /PlasmaMagnet with high power beam plasma sources such as HPH to produce a system where large orbiting spacecraft can be used to push payload between the planets with very little cost and thereby facilitate a permanent human presence in space.
    PlasmaMagnet has the ability to create large magnetic systems without the need for an pre-existing magnets. These systems provide new capabilities for plasma sails and radiation shielding.

    Dept. of Earth and Space Sciences Homepage
    Updated Nov 2011