Could plasma jet thrusters 'kickstart' interplanetary travel?

Nov 02, 2012 by Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today

A great offshoot from commercial space companies getting a foothold in real missions to orbit is that the old entrepreneurial space spirit seems to have been revived. People are attempting to develop and build what could be breakout space technologies, sometimes in their garages or basements. A new Kickstarter project is especially exciting, as it is looking to build a prototype electric pulsed plasma jet thruster, and the engineers behind the project say this could be used for reliable, high performance, low cost interplanetary space transportation.

A group of researchers started a company about 8 years ago called HyperV, and they have come up with a new design for basic pulsed technology. It runs on superheated ionized particles, and the engineers envision it could be used for orbital maneuvering, asteroid/comet rendezvous, cleanup and interplanetary transportation.

They say that using this kind of electric propulsion would significantly reduce the mass and weight of spacecraft, resulting in more affordable missions. Although there are other types of electric propulsion systems that have been used for space travel – with mixed results—the HyperV team believes their new design offers solutions to problems in previous designs, and will ultimately provide cheaper and more robust space travel.

The team describes their project:

We believe our thruster technology has the potential to be just as efficient as existing electric thrusters (such as ion and Hall effect thrusters) and with similar specific impulse. But our advantages will be derived from a thruster that is less complex (and much more robust), which can use a variety of propellants including gases, inert plastics, and propellants derived from asteroids, Mars, the Moon, etc., It will also be far cheaper to build, and can be more readily scaled to larger sizes and very high power levels than current electric propulsion systems. Our technology should be scalable from a few kilowatts all the way up to megawatts of average power. The electricity which is needed to power electric thrusters would most likely come from new high performance solar panels, but could also utilize other compact energy sources. From a practical viewpoint for satellite design, our thruster will have much higher thrust per unit area than ion or Hall thrusters, thus taking up less room on the rear of the spacecraft.

They predict their prototype could produce a specific impulse (Isp) of 2000 sec, which is an equivalent to an exhaust velocity of 20,000 m/s.

They are looking to raise $69,000 by November 3, 2012 to get their project started. At the time of this writing, the team has just over $54,000.

Here's a video from HyperV:

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

"We invite you, the citizens of Earth, to join with us as we design, construct, test, and execute this demonstration," the team wrote on their page. "The culmination of this project will be an all-up, laboratory demonstration of our prototype thruster."

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ScottyB
5 / 5 (6) Nov 02, 2012
Good luck to there guys!
Birger
4.4 / 5 (5) Nov 02, 2012
Hmmm....ion engine and Vasimr propulsion ideas have been floating around for years, but they need three things:
1:Development money
2:Development money
3:Development money
Harryrob
5 / 5 (4) Nov 02, 2012
keep up the good work guyz
A2G
3.7 / 5 (9) Nov 02, 2012
Awesome to see so much plasma research underway. Very commendable.
Adam Brinckerhoff
4.4 / 5 (7) Nov 02, 2012
It's exciting to hear that plasma thrusters are still being seriously developed. Even better, the realization of the technology is being left up to the general public on Kickstarter!

I think more and more of space exploration is going to be left up to the people. Even the mission fundraising itself. What do you think?

Adam Brinckerhoff
Development Engineer
SpaceUnited
rubberman
4.3 / 5 (11) Nov 02, 2012
Awesome to see so much plasma research underway. Very commendable.


Agreed!
And considering the logical means of protecting an astronaut crew on an interplanetary voyage will no doubt employ magnetic field generation as at least part of it, the tech fits the application very well.
hemitite
not rated yet Nov 02, 2012
This is an example of a direct spin-off of work on fusion energy potentiality contributing greatly to improvements in interplanetary propulsion. I think we will see much more of this.
CapitalismPrevails
3 / 5 (4) Nov 02, 2012
I contributed 1 dollar to this project just so i could have the title of contributor. I wonder how this project compares to VASIMR.
cantdrive85
1.3 / 5 (23) Nov 02, 2012
Awesome to see so much plasma research underway. Very commendable.

You're such a tool!
holoman
1 / 5 (7) Nov 02, 2012
Unfortunately this technology needs feeder stock, xenon,etc.

Make sure your xenon gas station is open and pumping before you
venture out into space !
rubberman
4.5 / 5 (8) Nov 02, 2012
Unfortunately this technology needs feeder stock, xenon,etc.

Make sure your xenon gas station is open and pumping before you
venture out into space !


"which can use a variety of propellants including gases, inert plastics, and propellants derived from asteroids, Mars, the Moon, etc.," - article

Unless they are overselling, that doesn't appear to be an issue.
A2G
3.5 / 5 (6) Nov 02, 2012
I also very much want to commend this team for how they are handling the whole thing. No putting down of the mainstream or complaining about their lack of funding. They are doing it for the love of science. Then look at how little money they have been able to do this for.

I am not at all against the government funding a project, but when the agency getting the funding knows that results are not necessarily required to keep funding, the problems start.

My dad worked at the AEC Sandia Labs and he often spoke of the horrible waste within the system there.

Towards the end of the fiscal year, his superiors would come to him and tell him he HAD to buy some stuff. He would tell them he was good and didn't need anymore for his research. But they would insist that he spend a lot of money in order to keep their budget the same for the following years.

Then all this unnecessary stuff all these researchers were buying would end up for sale at the scrap yard for 5 cents a pound.
The Singularity
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 02, 2012
A2G - That sounds like a stupid way of carrying on. Why not just admit they had a surplus & carry it over to the next fiscal year?
Waste is a bad thing & to fritter away funding just to get more is greedy & retarded.
Moebius
1 / 5 (1) Nov 02, 2012
A power source that lasts many years is no problem, now if they could get the fuel for the plasma in space they would really have something.
Tangent2
4.5 / 5 (8) Nov 02, 2012
A2G - That sounds like a stupid way of carrying on. Why not just admit they had a surplus & carry it over to the next fiscal year?
Waste is a bad thing & to fritter away funding just to get more is greedy & retarded.


Welcome to the way that government and related departments manage their budgets. They are of the mindset that if they don't use all of their budget, that there will be reductions to how much they are given in the future since they didn't need that much. The only question then is, what if they actually do require that extra money one year? And what if the politicians/policy makers are too thick headed to even understand the significance of the proposal for the additional funding and it's relevance?

I am not saying that I agree with the approach, I am merely plotting out the mindset in the manner, as I had gone through the same moral torment myself.
Tangent2
4.4 / 5 (7) Nov 02, 2012
oh FYI, these guys now have 100% of their funding: $69,513.
http://www.kickst..._popular
flashgordon
not rated yet Nov 02, 2012
are they saying a plasma jet engine as oppossed to a rocket engine?
Ober
5 / 5 (8) Nov 02, 2012
A2G - That sounds like a stupid way of carrying on. Why not just admit they had a surplus & carry it over to the next fiscal year?
Waste is a bad thing & to fritter away funding just to get more is greedy & retarded.


You haven't worked in the public sector have you??
Public money/budgets are CRAZY. It really does operate on the basis that you HAVE TO spend all your budget, or it WILL be cut in the following year. There is no carry over the surplus ability, which is what SANE people would do. Sorry, but public budgets encourage waste. Remember that public institutions are not supposed to make a profit, therefore you cannot carry a surplus of money from year to year. I worked in the hospital system for a LONG TIME, and it was attrocious to see money wasted because of this, spend it or lose it budgeting system, that governments force on the public sector.

This really needs highlighting to the public, because savings are easy to come by, if this budgeting debacle is rectified.
holoman
1 / 5 (3) Nov 02, 2012
"which can use a variety of propellants including gases, inert plastics, and propellants derived from asteroids, Mars, the Moon, etc.," - article

Unless they are overselling, that doesn't appear to be an issue.
reportquote


Article doesn't say they can use everything including the kitchen sink.
NoTennisNow
3 / 5 (2) Nov 02, 2012
I am troubled about the use of solar power "The electricity which is needed to power electric thrusters would most likely come from new high performance solar panels, but could also utilize other compact energy sources."

The solar flux follows an inverse square law. Consequently, the are of a solar panel needed to maintain a constant energy capture rate must increase by the square of the distance from the reference surface (Say the solar energy flux at Earth's distance from the sun to, say the distance Mars is from the sun.).

To make this easier to visualize, think about the surface of a balloon increasing as it is blown up.

Notennisnow
PhotonX
3 / 5 (1) Nov 02, 2012
I think more and more of space exploration is going to be left up to the people. Even the mission fundraising itself. What do you think?
Private funding or not, I think that the next folk kicking up moon dust will be speaking Chinese. I am certainly happy to see success for SpaceX, though, and hope their good luck and innovation continues.

Towards the end of the fiscal year, his superiors would come to him and tell him he HAD to buy some stuff...Then all this unnecessary stuff all these researchers were buying would end up for sale at the scrap yard...
I think I would find a sudden need for a few hundred Krugerrands in my research projects. Unfortunately, my direct experience has been that the kind of honest budgetary disclosures you suggest sadly don't work out so well after the upper management bean counters hear that kind of talk. (Edit: 'you' being Singularity, in this case, sorry.)
FMA
1 / 5 (4) Nov 02, 2012
I think alien aircraft most likely use plasma technology as a propellant thrust, it is a good start!!

Will they commercialize their end results one day?
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.1 / 5 (13) Nov 03, 2012
Well it's too bad the private sector doesn't have access to the really competitive plasma tech
http://en.rian.ru...924.html

-These are also scalable, by far the most powerful, and independent of the sun. And restricted.

Also this
http://en.wikiped...opulsion
Caliban
5 / 5 (1) Nov 03, 2012
It's exciting to hear that plasma thrusters are still being seriously developed. Even better, the realization of the technology is being left up to the general public on Kickstarter!

I think more and more of space exploration is going to be left up to the people. Even the mission fundraising itself. What do you think?

Adam Brinckerhoff
Development Engineer
SpaceUnited


Adam,

I think that you are absolutely correct.

However, being the cynical bastard that I am, I will also point out that I expect this trend to continue all the way up to the time at which the technology is fully commercializeable, at which point, all the players will be bought up by the "usual suspects" corporate behemoths, and that if you aren't a MAJOR shareholder in a particular enterprise, you'll be left holding some cold meat in your hand in return for all your trouble.

I would recommend that if you are going to get in, that you get in in a big way, and have the paper to prove your stake.

Your thoughts?
Shootist
1 / 5 (2) Nov 04, 2012
Polywell and Vasmir, For The Win.
san_man
not rated yet Nov 04, 2012
I'm wondering if someone will think about inventing a large inflatable solar array, in order to produce the higher amounts of power for the scaled-up versions of these types of plasma thrusters.

Now that might be another project worth Kickstarting.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (3) Nov 04, 2012
They're essentially developing a lifter. I've no problem with such research, but I consider it a bit trivial and redundant at the moment, when we didn't solve the generation of sufficient amount of energy for example with cold fusion. This is the main limiting factor of cosmic flight by now. We have many ion powered spacecrafts already (GOCE, Deep Space 1, Hayabusa, Dawn) - we don't need to reinvent wheel in garage here.
Lex Talonis
2 / 5 (4) Nov 05, 2012
Yeah I use Jesus power for my inter galactic travel.........

I just ascend into low earth orbit and hand the lord something to tug on and away we go.
Urgelt
5 / 5 (3) Nov 05, 2012
Just sticking my oar in... government agencies' budget maneuverings are caused by Congress - which punishes agencies for unspent funding and howls if appropriated money doesn't flow expeditiously to favored contractors. That wonderfully corrupt institution is utterly controlled by special interests.

And we let that happen. We, the citizens.

Good government starts with honest politicians. When there aren't any, it's not going to be pretty.
Anonymous586
1 / 5 (1) Nov 05, 2012
NASA already develop a plasma propulsion system. The developer is Franklin Diaz who is an astronaut & scientist that is known to have been in outer space more often than anyone else. He is now in one of the lab in Costa Rica continueing his research & development of his plasma propulsion system. Hopefully they can get this system up and going before the Asteroid Apophis return and put one or more on the Asteroid Apophis to navigate it away from Earth. And maybe even combine it with a Cosmic GPS system, using pulsars as points of reference, to navigate the Asteroid Apophis away from our solar system.
despinos
not rated yet Nov 05, 2012
They're essentially developing a lifter. I've no problem with such research, but I consider it a bit trivial and redundant at the moment, when we didn't solve the generation of sufficient amount of energy for example with cold fusion. This is the main limiting factor of cosmic flight by now. We have many ion powered spacecrafts already (GOCE, Deep Space 1, Hayabusa, Dawn) - we don't need to reinvent wheel in garage here.


Well, you could say the same about anything invented to this day. We also don't really need more than one car maker or model, do we? Oh, wait, maybe designs can be improved and costs reduced if more than one group is thinking about the same problem...
despinos
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 05, 2012
"when we didn't solve the generation of sufficient amount of energy for example with cold fusion."

PLease, check your "basic Science concepts" (or vocabulary).
Energy is not generated. Energy is transformed.
GSwift7
3 / 5 (2) Nov 05, 2012
are they saying a plasma jet engine as oppossed to a rocket engine?


In addition. The launch from Earth will still be some kind of chemical rocket (solid or liquid fuel). Then you could still have a chemical rocket engine on the spacecraft in addition to this. The idea here is to have a low power thruster that can run for hundreds of thousands of hours. The current ion drives are complex and have very small delicate parts. Over time, exposure to plasma and electric fields wears out the parts in them. It's kinda like how the cathode and anode in a battery have limited lifespans. A simpler, more durable design is needed so that it can run for 10 times longer than current designs.
Osiris1
1 / 5 (1) Nov 05, 2012
I like this tech, and that developed by Dr Chang-Diaz. I think at present Dr Chang-Diaz' tech is more mature and ready to go. It will fly on the ISS soon, and a prediction is that it could power missions to Mars and all over the solar system. Especially useful for asteroid mining missions.
sender
1 / 5 (1) Nov 06, 2012
Would rather a space fountain system with optical beam relays on satellites along the interplanetary transport network than relying on the vehicle itself to move.
ScreenWorks
not rated yet Nov 08, 2012
Could plasma jet thrusters 'kickstart' interplanetary travel? In a word, "Unlikely". If any recent development and testing gets off the ground, I'll upgrade the status to "Maybe". And ya really gotta QC this stuff, I can't stress that enough!
Sonhouse
not rated yet Nov 08, 2012
One question I have is looking at the image, all those tubes shooting out plasma, how long can they continue pushing plasma before those tubes start deteriorating?
Sonhouse
not rated yet Nov 08, 2012
I notice in also, in the image, one of the thruster tubes is not working. Is that a harbinger of things to come for that unit?

I work on industrial accelerators and the source is similar to our ion plasma generators. The thing is, ours wear down and have to be replaced regularly. I think the same thing will happen with this technology.
dan42day
3 / 5 (2) Nov 09, 2012
Private funding or not, I think that the next folk kicking up moon dust will be speaking Chinese.


At this point in my life (the last third) I am not too picky about what language human space explorers speak, as long as SOMEONE from this planet gets it in gear and gets us off of this rock in my lifetime! I have been expecting to see us routinely visiting other planets around Sol since the sixties!
The Singularity
1 / 5 (1) Nov 09, 2012
We cant even look after the planet we've got. Traveling to others is hardly a priority.
Sonhouse
5 / 5 (1) Nov 09, 2012
Traveling to other planets and establishing permanent colonies that can live without help from Earth is a way of beating the odds that killed the dinosaurs. The more colonies we have, the more likely humans will survive whatever the universe throws at us. As it is, we are exactly in the same boat as the dinosaurs, one big asteroid hits Earth and we are history. Even colonies on the moon will keep the human race going in that event. The further apart colonies are, the larger the event we will survive. For instance, if there was a supernova within a couple hundred light years of Earth, that could do us in also but if we ever get to the point where we can put colonies on stars a few hundred light years away, even that kind of event won't end the human race.

The way we are treating Earth now is atrocious for sure. But colonies on other planets will have that example to not follow so we would learn from our mistakes.