Accessibility statement

Plasma Propulsion

Contact: James Dedrick

‌There exist several ongoing research challenges in electric propulsion. For example, decreasing the thruster size, while maintaining its efficiency and longevity, could significantly decrease cost at launch. The electric propulsion of spacecraft is a high-impact research field, and has been applied to hundreds of successful missions. Electric propulsion sources generate thrust through the acceleration of charged particles. Their relatively high thrust efficiency makes them useful alternatives to chemical rockets and this enables applications including satellite station keeping and space exploration.

Plasma Propulsion1

One of our research projects involves collaboration with the Space Plasma, Power and Propulsion Laboratory (SP3), Australian National University and the Computational Plasma Science and Engineering Group (CPSEG), University of Michigan on the development of the SP3 electrothermal plasma microthruster. This concept does not require a space-charge neutraliser, which significantly decreases complexity, and we are working to improve our understanding of the plasma physics to increase operational control and power efficiency.

PhD Theses

Doyle, Scott James (2019) Electron, ion and neutral heating in hollow cathode plasma thrusters. PhD thesis, University of York.


S.J. Doyle, A. Bennet, D. Tsifakis, J.P. Dedrick, R.W. Boswell and C.Charles, Characterization and Control of an Ion-Acoustic Plasma Instability Downstream of a Diverging Magnetic Nozzle, Front. Phys., February 2020

S.J.Doyle. A.R.Gibson, R. Boswell, C. Charles & J.P. Dedrick, Inducing locally structured ion energy distributions in intermediate-pressure plasmasPhysics of Plasmas 26, July 2019

S.J.Doyle, A.R. Gibson, R. Boswell, C. Charles & J.P. Dedrick, Control of Electron, ion and neutral heating in a radio-frequency electrothermal microthruster via dual-frequency voltage waveforms, Plasma Sources Science & Technology 28, 25 March 2019

S.J. Doyle, A.R. Gibson, J. Flatt, T.S. Ho, R. Boswell, C. Charles, P. Tian, M.J. Kushner & J.P. DedrickSpatio-temporal plasma heating mechanisms in a radio-frequency electrothermal microthruster, Plasma Sources science & technology 27, 2-08-2018

S. J. Doyle, T. Lafleur, A. R. Gibson, P. Tian, M. Kushner & J.P. Dedrick, Enhanced Control of the Ionization Rate in Radio-Frequency Plasmas with Structured Electrodes via Tailored Voltage Waveforms, Plasma Sources Sci. Technol. 26, 125005 (2017)

J.P. Dedrick, A. R. Gibson, D. Rafalskyi & A. Aanesland, Phase-resolved Optical Emission Spectroscopy of a Neutralizer- Free Gridded Ion Thruster, Presented at the 35th International Electric Propulsion Conference, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, October 8-12 2017. 

Neptune Neutralizer-Free Plasma Propulsion, American Institute of Physic, Press Release.

J.P. Dedrick, A.R. Gibson, D. Rafalskyi & A. Aanesland, Transient Propagation Dynamics of Flowing Plasmas Accelerated by Radio-Frequency Electric Fields, Physics of Plasmas 24, 050703 (2017)

C. Charles, A Bish, R. W. Boswell, J.P. Dedrick, A. Greig, R. Hawkins & T.S. Ho, A Short Review of Experimental and Computational Diagnostics for Radio-Frequency Plasma Micro-Thrusters, Plasma Chemistry and Plasma Processing 36, (2015)