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Electric Propulsion
Robert G. JahnEdgar Y. Choueiri
Princeton University 
I. ConceptualOrganizationandHistoryoftheFieldII. Electrothermal PropulsionIII. Electrostatic PropulsionIV. Electromagnetic PropulsionV. Systems ConsiderationsVI. Applications
GLOSSARY
Arcjet
Device that heats a propellant stream by passinga high-current electrical arc through it, before the pro-pellant is expanded through a downstream nozzle.
Hall effect
Conduction of electric current perpendicularto an applied electric field in a superimposed magneticfield.
Inductive thruster
Device that heats a propellant streamby means of an inductive discharge before the propel-lant is expanded through a downstream nozzle.
Ion thruster
Device that accelerates propellant ions byan electrostatic field.
Magnetoplasmadynamic thruster
Device that acceler-atesapropellantplasmabyaninternalorexternalmag-netic field acting on an internal arc current.
Plasma
Heavily ionized state of matter, usually gaseous,composed of ions, electrons, and neutral atoms ormolecules, that has sufficient electrical conductivity tocarry substantial current and to react to electric andmagnetic body forces.
Resistojet
Device that heats a propellant stream by pass-ing it through a resistively heated chamber beforethe propellant is expanded through a downstreamnozzle.
Thrust
Unbalanced internal force exerted on a rocketduring expulsion of its propellant mass.
THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
of electricpropulsion (EP) encompass a broad variety of strate-gies for achieving very high exhaust velocities in orderto reduce the total propellant burden and correspondinglaunch mass of present and future space transportationsystems. These techniques group broadly into three cat-egories: electrothermal propulsion, wherein the propel-lant is electrically heated, then expanded thermodynami-cally through a nozzle; electrostatic propulsion, whereinionized propellant particles are accelerated throughan electric field; and electromagnetic propulsion, whereincurrent driven through a propellant plasma interactswith an internal or external magnetic field to provide a
 Encyclopedia of Physical Science and Technology, Third Edition, Volume 5 
Copyright 
C
2002 by Academic Press. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.
125
 
126
Electric Propulsion
stream-wisebodyforce.Suchsystemscanproducearangeof exhaust velocities and payload mass fractions an orderofmagnitudehigherthanthatofthemostadvancedchem-ical rockets, which can thereby enable or substantiallyenhance many attractive space missions. The attainablethrust densities (thrust per unit exhaust area) of these sys-tems are much lower, however, which predicates longer
ight times and more complex mission trajectories. In ad-dition, these systems require space-borne electric powersupplies of low speci
c mass and high reliability, inter-faced with suitable power processing equipment. Opti-mization of EP systems thus involves multidimensionaltrade-offsamongmissionobjectives,propellantandpowerplant mass, trip time, internal and external environmentalfactors, and overall system reliability. An enduring inter-national program of research and development of viableelectric thrusters has been in progress for several decades,and over the past few years this has led to the increas-ing use of a number of EP systems on commercial andgovernmental spacecraft. Meanwhile, yet more advancedEP concepts have matured to high credibility for futuremission applications.
I. CONCEPTUAL ORGANIZATIONAND HISTORY OF THE FIELD
A. Motivation
The stimulus for development of electrically drivenspace propulsion systems is nothing less fundamen-tal than Newton
s laws of dynamics. Since a rocket-propelled spacecraft in free
ight derives its onlyacceleration from discharge of propellant mass, its equa-tion of motion follows directly from conservation of the total momentum of the spacecraft and its exhauststream:
m
˙
υ
=
˙
m
υ
e
,
(1)where
m
is the mass of the spacecraft at any given time,
˙
υ
its acceleration vector,
υ
e
the velocity vector of the ex-haustjetrelativetothespacecraft,and
˙
m
therateofchangeof spacecraft mass due to propellant-mass expulsion. Theproduct
˙
m
υ
e
is called the thrust of the rocket,
, and formostpurposescanbetreatedasifitwereanexternalforceappliedtothespacecraft.Itsintegraloveranygiventhrust-ing time is usually termed the impulse,
, and the ratio of the magnitude of 
to the rate of expulsion of propellantin units of sea-level weight,
˙
mg
o
, has historically been la-beled the speci
c impulse,
s
=
υ
e
/
g
o
. If 
υ
e
is constantover a given period of thrust, the spacecraft achieves anincrement in its velocity,
υ
, which depends linearly on
υ
e
and logarithmically on the amount of propellant massexpended:
υ
=
υ
e
ln
m
o
m
,
(2)where
m
o
and
m
are the total spacecraft mass at the startandcompletionoftheaccelerationperiod.Conversely,thedeliverable mass fraction,
m
/
m
o
, is a negative exponen-tial in the scalar ratio
υ/υ
e
:
m
m
o
=
e
υ/υ
e
.
(3)Inclusion of signi
cant gravitational or drag forces onthe
ightofthespacecraftaddsappropriatetermstoEq.(1)and considerably complicates its integration, but it is stillpossible to retain relation (3), provided that
υ
is nowregarded as a more generalized
characteristic velocityincrement,
indicative of the energetic dif 
culty of theparticular mission or maneuver. However represented, thesalient point is simply that if the spacecraft is to deliver asigni
cant portion of its initial mass to its destination, therocket exhaust speed must be comparable to this charac-teristic velocity increment. Clearly, for missions of large
υ
, the burden of thrust generation must shift from highratesofejectionofpropellantmasstohighrelativeexhaustvelocities. Unfortunately, conventional chemical rockets,whether liquid or solid, monopropellant or bipropellant,are fundamentally limited by their available combustionreaction energies and heat transfer tolerances to exhaustspeeds of a few thousand meters per second, whereasmany attractive space missions entail characteristic ve-locity increments at least an order of magnitude higher.Thus, some fundamentally di
erent concept for the accel-eration of propellant mass that circumvents the intrinsiclimitations of chemical thermodynamic expansion is re-quired. Into this breech step the family of electric propul-sion possibilities.
B. Conceptual Subdivision
So that propellant exhaust speeds in the range above10,000 m/sec desirable for interplanetary
ight and otherhigh-energymissionscanbeobtained,processesbasicallydifferent from nozzled expansion of a chemically reacting
ow must be invoked. More intense forms of propellantheating may be employed, provided that the walls of therocket chamber and nozzle are protected from excessiveheat transfer. Alternatively, the thermal expansion routemay be bypassed completely by direct application of suit-ablebodyforcestoacceleratethepropellantstream.Eitheroftheseoptionsismostreasonablyaccomplishedbyelec-trical means, which constitute the technology of electricpropulsion.
 
Electric Propulsion
127
Historically, conceptually, and pragmatically, this
eldhas tended to subdivide into three categories:1.
Electrothermal propulsion
, wherein the propellant isheated by some electrical process, then expandedthrough a suitable nozzle2.
Electrostatic propulsion
, wherein the propellant isaccelerated by direct application of electrostaticforces to ionized particles3.
Electromagnetic propulsion
, wherein the propellant isaccelerated under the combined action of electric andmagnetic
eldsOver their periods of development, each of these ap-proaches has spawned its own array of technical special-tiesandsubspecialties,itsownbalancesheetofadvantagesand limitations, and its own cadres of proponents and de-tractors, but in serious assessment, each has validly qual-i
ed for particular niches of application, many of whichdonotseriouslyoverlap.ThroughoutthehistoryofEPde-velopment, the original subdivision of the
eld into elec-trothermal,electrostatic,andelectromagneticsystemshasremained useful, and this subdivision will be respectedthrough the balance of this article. It should be recog-nized, however, that in virtually all practical systems, twoor even all three of these processes function in some con-certtoaccelerate,channel,andexpandthepropellant
ow,andinmanycasesitistheef 
cacyofthiscooperationthatdetermines the utility of any given device.The exhaust velocities attainable by these methods,especially the latter two, are more than adequate formany large-velocity-increment missions beyond the vi-able chemical range. Indeed, some restraint of their
υ
e
capability may be required because of their associated
power supply penalty.
Clearly, each of these conceptsentails two functional components: the thruster itself andan electric power supply to drive it. The latter adds mass,
m
 p
, to the composite propulsion system in some propor-tiontothepowerlevelofoperation,
P
,whichinturnscaleswith the square of the exhaust velocity:
m
 p
=
α
P
=
α
υ
e
2
η
=
α
˙
m
υ
2
e
2
η,
(4)where
α
is the speci
c mass of the power supply (massper unit power), and
η
is the ef 
ciency with which thethruster converts its input power to thrust power,
υ
e
/
2.Since the requisite propellant mass scales inversely with
υ
e
, it follows that for any given mission requirement,
υ
,there is an optimum
υ
e
that minimizes the sum of thepropellant mass and that of the requisite power supply.Relation (4) also emphasizes the importance of utilizingpower systems of low speci
c mass and thrusters of highconversion ef 
ciency. Overlaid on all this is the evidentnecessity for impeccable reliability of both componentsof the system over long periods of unattended operationin the space environment.
C. History of Effort
TheattractivenessofEPforabroadvarietyofspacetrans-portation applications was recognized by the patriarch of modernrocketry,RobertH.Goddard,asearlyas1906.HisRussian counterpart, Konstantin Tsiolkovskiy, proposedsimilar concepts in 1911, as did the German HermannOberth in his classic book on space
ight in 1929 and theBritishteamofShepherdandCleaverin1949.Butthe
rstsystematic and tutorial assessment of EP systems shouldbe attributed to Ernst Stuhlinger, whose book 
Ion Propul-sion for Space Flight 
nicely summarizes his seminal stud-ies of the 1950s.The rapid acceleration of the U.S. space ambitions inthe 1960s drove with it the
rst coordinated research anddevelopment programs explicitly addressing EP technol-ogy. In its earliest phase, this e
ort drew heavily on reser-voirs of past experience in other areas of physical scienceand engineering that had employed similar electrother-mal, electrostatic, and electromagnetic concepts to theirown purposes, such as arc-heated wind tunnels and weld-ing practice, cathode ray tubes and mass-spectroscopicionsources,andmagnetohydrodynamicchannel
owsandrailguns. From these transposed technologies blossomeda signi
cant new component of the burgeoning space in-dustrythatconcerneditselfnotonlywiththedevelopmentof viable electric thrusters, but also with the provisionof suitable electric power supplies and power condition-ing equipment, major ground test facilities, and sophisti-catedmissionanalysesofasmorgasbordofpotentialspaceapplications.Followingasizablenumberofexperimental
ighttests,EP entered its era of commercial application in the early1980s, as resistojets became common options for sta-tion keeping and attitude control on tens of commercialspacecraft. In the early 1990s, electrothermal arcjets wereadopted for north
south station keeping (NSSK) of manycommunication satellites in geosynchronous earth orbit(GEO). The year 1994 saw the
rst use of electrostaticion thrusters for the NSSK of commercial satellites, andthe year 1998 their application on a planetary NASA mis-sion. Although Hall thrusters have been used on Sovietand Russian spacecraft since the mid-1970s, and therehave been a few applications of pulsed plasma thrusters,electromagnetic thrusters are only now entering their eraof application on Western commercial spacecraft. In to-tal, the number of electrically propelled spacecraft hasgone from single digits in the 1960s to double digits inthe 1970s and 1980s and has reached the triple-digit mark 

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