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Using the Venturi Effect to Maximize the Exhaust Velocity of a Magnetoplasmadynamic

Spacecraft Electric Propulsion Engine

Spacecraft electric propulsion engines were created in the 1960s as an alternate to chemical

propulsion when in space, and most operate by ionizing an inert gas, which functions as the

engines propellant. The gas is ionized through either direct contact of the gas between an anode

and cathode or through RF waves, and the gas is transformed into plasma (Ilin, et al.). There are

several advantages electric propulsion engines have over chemical propulsion engines when

travelling through space including reduced cost on fuel, and weight that is saved by eliminating

the complex liquid fuel storage systems (Kirk, D.R.). Additionally, electric propulsion engines do

not use much fuel while operating and this allows them to operate throughout the majority of the

mission duration, and this allows for more control of the spacecraft during the mission and a

higher final velocity (Myers, Roger, et al). However, electric propulsion currently has some

major limitations as a result of the maximum amount the weight of the spacecrafts power supply

including, the amount of thrust it can produce, its efficiency, and its exhaust velocity (Martinez,

"Magnetic Nozzles"). As a result, this paper intends to investigate other possible methods of

improving the performance of the performance of electric propulsion engines other than using a

bigger, heavier power supply.

Most electric propulsion engines operate by ionizing an inert gas or other propellants, which can

include lithium and hydrazine and after either ionizing or heating the propellant, it is propelled

out of the engine to generate thrust (Kirk, D.R.). There are also pulsed electric propulsion

engines that use a solid block of fuel and these engines use an anode and cathode that is in

contact with the fuel that turns it into plasma. There are four main types of electric propulsion
engines, and they are classified by the way they operate. Electrothermal propulsion uses a system

of ionization that heats propellant either through the thruster wall or by an electrical arc, and this

is how Resistojets and Arcjets operate. In electrostatic propulsion, ions, which are charged

particles, are accelerated by electrostatic propulsion. Ion thrusters use this method, and to operate

they use an electromagnetic field to remove electrons from the gas in order to create the plasma,

and the plasmas electrons are accelerated to high speeds by an electric field that is applied

between two grids. Hall thrusters also used this principle in order to operate. In order to produce

thrust, Hall thrusters create an electrical potential between an external cathode and an internal

anode, which creates an axial electric field within the engine. When the cathode of the thruster

heats, it emits electrons and some of these electrons drift towards the anode, and when these

electrodes enter the chamber, they magnetic forces cause them to whirl around the axis of the

thruster and they are accelerated out by a magnetic field. Electromagnetic propulsion works by

generating an electrically conducting fluid that is accelerated by electromagnetic and pressure

forces. They ionize the propellant through either a self-field method, which uses direct contact

between the fuel, anode, and cathode, or an applied-field method, which uses radio wave

frequency generators to ionize and the superheat the plasma (Ilin, et al); (Myers, Roger, et al.).

Chemical and electric propulsion engines both have limitations on the thrust they produce and

how fast of a speed that they can accelerate a spacecraft to, however, these limitations differ

because of how both types of propulsion work. Chemical propulsion engines are capable of

producing a large amount of thrust over a small amount of time, and they also have a much lower

exhaust velocity than electric propulsion engines (Kirk, D.R.). As a result, they are limited in

terms of the energy that is stored in the propellant (Kirk, D.R.). Electric propulsion engines can

produce a small engines can produce a small amount of thrust for a long amount of time, and as a
result, they can only be used in space. However, they can also produce a higher final speed as a

result of being able to sustain a burn for the entire trip (Keidar, M., and I Beilis). They also allow

for a greater amount of control over the spacecraft while it is travelling to its destination. Electric

propulsion engines are limited by the maximum output of the power supply that the spacecraft is

equipped with (Kirk, D.R.).

The high level of thrust that is produced from chemical rockets means that they are the only

available option when launching from the ground or another high gravity environment (Polyaev,

V.M., and V. A. Burkaltsev), however, while in space, several methods of propulsion exist.

Traditionally, chemical rockets have been used in space programs such as the Apollo program

and the Space Shuttle. To produce thrust, chemical propulsion engines primarily use a fuel and

oxidizer, which most usually hydrogen and oxygen. Hypergolic propellants are propellants that

spontaneously ignite when they come into contact with one another, which eliminates the extra

complexity and weight of an ignition system. Spacecrafts also are equipped with reaction control

system thrusters, and these are responsible for causing small changes in the orientation, or

attitude of a spacecraft. They either utilize their own type of fuel, or can also use bursts of air.

Many of these systems all have similar disadvantages, which includes complex and heavy fuel

storage systems, propellants that are quickly consumed and don't allow for a long burn time, and

in the case of air, an inability to produce a large amount of thrust. However, electric propulsion

engines use an inert gas or solid fuel source as the propellant, and electric propulsion engines can

burn that propellant for a lot longer time than chemical rockets, and as a result of being able to

burn that fuel for a longer time, enough fuel can be carried to allow the engine to run for the

entire mission, and this allows for more control of the spacecraft during the mission as well as a

higher final spacecraft velocity. As a result of electric propulsion engines using inert gases or a
solid fuel block for propulsion, the fuel storage system can be much simpler and lighter, which

helps reduce the cost. Their efficiency is also higher, especially, when run with higher power

supplies (Martinez, "Near Region Expansion and Acceleration").

Magnetoplasmadynamic (MPD) thrusters is what this research will focus on due to the higher

performance that it has in terms of exhaust velocity, thrust output, and power handling that they

generally have compared to other types of thrusters. MPDs also offer other advantages such as

easy throttling and higher efficiency than many of the other types of electric propulsion that

exist. There are currently two types of MPD engines in existence. The first type is known as the

self-field thruster, and uses direct contact between an anode and cathode and the propellant in

order to ionize it (Myers, Roger, et al.). A second type of MPD thruster, known as the applied

field type, uses microwave radiation in order to ionize the propellant. This is accomplished in

two steps by using a Helicon coupler, and an ICH coupler to superheat the plasma. An example

of this thruster would be the VASIMR rocket. Both types of thruster use electromagnets in order

to contain the plasma within the thruster, as any physical contact between the plasma and the

thruster wall would result in the thruster wall being vaporized. Both types can use either an inert

gas or lithium gas, and this gas is ionized in order to form the propellant (Princeton Electric

Propulsion and Plasma Dynamics Lab). Self-field thrusters were created first, and although they

may use a simpler design, they have a major disadvantage of requiring direct contact between the

anode and the gas in order to ionize it, as this is what gradually erodes the anode and the cathode

of the thruster, and as a result, their performance is a lot lower than Applied-field thrusters.

Applied-field thrusters are a lot better performing because they have a higher exhaust velocity,

thrust generated, and thruster lifetime. The power levels supplied to the thruster can be easily

scaled up, so it is capable of handling more power than many electric propulsion engines in
existence, and as a result, it can generate a higher amount of thrust and higher exhaust velocities

(Marquardt). The VASIMR, or the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasmadynamic Rocket, is

a unique type of MPD engine because it has the ability to vary its specific impulse (Marquardt).

The specific impulse of a rocket engine is a measurement that compares the amount of thrust that

the rocket engine produces to the amount of fuel that is used. A higher specific impulse leads to a

lower amount of fuel being used compared to the thrust that is produced, and this is because the

higher exhaust velocity that is produced by the thruster outputs a higher amount of energy with a

lower amount of fuel being consumed. With a lower amount of fuel being used, this can reduce

the overall weight of the system or allow for longer missions, the ability of the spacecraft to a

travel to multiple destinations, or have a higher final speed. A second benefit of using a thruster

with a higher specific impulse is that it will operate with a higher level of efficiency, meaning

that a higher amount of the fuel used will be ionized and turned into an effective thrust, and that

a higher amount of the electricity that is inputted to the thruster is used to ionize the propellant.

Engines, such as chemical rockets, that have a lower specific impulse are able to produce a

higher amount of force, and currently, these are the only engines available to be used at takeoff,

where a high amount of force must be used to lift heavy launch vehicles. When these engines are

used, they consume the fuel very rapidly, and when used in space, they will only be able to

operate for a short amount of time before their fuel is expended, and then the spacecraft is forced

to coast the rest of the way to its destination, and the spacecraft will also have a lower final speed

(Martinez, "Magnetic Nozzles"). The benefit of using an engine with a higher specific impulse in

space is that it can maintain a small but constant acceleration, allowing the spacecraft to reach a

higher final velocity, or allowing the spacecraft to have a greater amount of directional control.

The ability of the VASIMR to vary the amount of thrust that it produces and its exhaust velocity
allows the operator of the engine to vary the amount of thrust that they produce and the exhaust

velocity of the thrusters. This would allow an operator to control when a greater amount of force

from the engine is required or when a longer operating time and higher exhaust velocity

alternately is required (Shaw, "Introduction"). The VASIMRs specific impulse is varied by

increasing or decreasing power to the thrusters gas injector and microwave ionizers, however,

this results in the a need to have a larger, and therefore heavier power supply (Marquardt).

Launch vehicles that are currently in existence do not have the capacity to lift the heavier power

supplies that would be required to provide the thruster with a higher power supply, and

developing a new chemical powered launch vehicle that would be capable would cost billions of

dollars. In order to have the benefits that can be provided by MPD thrusters when they operate at

higher specific impulses without requiring a larger and heavier power supply, other methods of

reaching these specific impulses without requiring larger power supplies must be investigated.

In this research, a possible method of achieving that is being investigated is known is the

Venturi Effect, also known as Bernoulli's Principle (U of Austrialia). This principle works as a

result of the differences in cross sectional area of two pipes that are in the system, and the

principle states that as the cross sectional area of the tube decreases, the velocity in the tube will

decrease, the velocity of the fluid, but at the same time, the pressure of the fluid will decrease

due to the principle of the conservation of mass. The research that is being conducted in the

project aims to use the Venturi effect on the magnetic nozzle of an MPD engine. The specific

engine that this principle will be applied to is the, the Compression Engine. However, because of

the conservation of mass, applying Bernoullis principle to the Compression engine would result

in a loss of force that is emitted from the nozzle, and therefore, a nozzle that uses the Venturi

effect will need to be designed in a way that minimizes the loss of force that occurs as a result of
the Venturi effect (Meyers, et al.). In this experiment, there were two nozzles that were designed

and would be tested to gather data on them. The first nozzle design is called the Cycling

Compression nozzle would consist of a tube that would be where the gas is injected in, and first

is initially ionized into plasma. The next part of the nozzle consists of a stage where the nozzle

expands and then converges down to a diameter that is smaller than converges down to a

diameter that is smaller than the original diameter of the tube that the gas is injected into, with a

slight flare at the end. The plasma would be superheated during the part of the nozzle that

expands, and electromagnetic superconductors would be located throughout the full length of the

nozzle. The plasma would detach from the nozzle during the section of the nozzle that is flared.

The second nozzle design is known as the Direct Compression Nozzle, and would consist of a

straight tube that is the same length as the Cycling Compression nozzle, but would directly

converge to an output diameter that would be the same diameter of the output stage of the

Cycling Compression nozzle, and would also still feature a slight flare at the end of the nozzle


In order to collect data on the nozzle designs to determine which performed better, prototypes

of the two nozzles would need to be created. It would not be cost effective or practical to create a

full scale model of the engine, especially since its ionization, gas injection, and plasma storage

systems are still not designed. As a result, 3D printing was selected to be the chosen prototyping

method. In order to 3D print these engine designs; they were modeled in a computer assisted

design software known as Autodesk Inventor. Three different tests would be performed on the

nozzles in order to collect the data. The first test would be used to determine the flow rate of a

fluid through the nozzle, and it would help to confirm that there is an acceptable amount of

active fluid that is expelled out of the thrusters, and the one that has the better flow rate would
translate to more plasma being expelled from the thruster. The second test will be used to

determine the exhaust velocity of a fluid produced by the thruster, and this reveals which nozzle

design is capable of accelerating the fluid to a higher speed. The purpose of the third test is to

determine the force of the water that is expelled from the nozzle, and this will reveal which of

the two nozzles has a water stream that produces a greater amount of force from it. To collect the

data, the following experimental setup was used: a thrust stand capable of securely holding the

3D printed nozzles was constructed, and this was mounted on a ladder raised 5ft above the

ground. Water would be used as the active substance to flow through the nozzle, and although its

properties are vastly different than plasma, it would allow information about the performance of

the nozzles to be collected and would allow data on the two nozzles to be compared in order to

determine which nozzle was better performing. The first test that was performed was the flow

rate test, and this test was accomplished by timing how long it took for each of the two nozzle

types to fill a one gallon bucket with water. To ensure accuracy in collecting data, the test would

be performed ten times for each nozzle. The second test that would be performed aimed to find

the exhaust velocity of the fluid from the thruster, and this was accomplished by timing how long

it took for the fluid emitted from the thruster to hit the ground by using a high speed camera to

film the tests and then reviewing the film to see how long it took for the water to travel five feet.

Based on this data, one could determine the exhaust velocity of the fluid that is emitted from the

thruster, and this test was repeated five times for each thruster. The third test would be used in

order to determine the force of the fluid that was emitted from each of the two nozzles, and to

accomplish this, a force probe was held underneath each nozzle, and for validity, this test was

repeated five times on each nozzle. The results of the flow rate test showed that the Cycling

Compression nozzle was able to on average fill the one gallon bucket 1.69 seconds faster than
the Direct Compression nozzle. In the exhaust velocity test, the Cycling Compression nozzle had

an exhaust velocity that was on average 2.47ft/s faster than the exhaust velocity of the Direct

Compression nozzle. When the test to determine the force of the fluid was used, the force that

was produced from the nozzles was very low, and this due to the limitation of using the output of

a garden hose as the source for water in this experiment, despite this, the Cycling Compression

Nozzle on average still had a higher level of thrust by 0.05 Newtons. Based on this data, one can

conclude that the performance of the Cycling Compression nozzle was slightly better than the

Direct Compression nozzle, especially the exhaust velocity. This could possibly be explained by

the fact that the Cycling chamber in the nozzle allows for more water to accumulate in it, while

at the same time, the water being inputted from the hose continues to push on the water that is

already in the nozzle, leading to more force that is being pushed on the nozzle and results in the

water flowing out of the nozzle faster, providing for a faster flow rate and higher exhaust

velocity. However, since the level of performance of the Cycling Compression nozzle was not

astronomically better than the Direct Compression nozzle, the Direct Compression nozzle should

be considered as an alternative design. This is because the design is simpler and will be less

costly to build since the expansion chamber will not have to be built, nor will the complex

plasma sheaths that will form in the nozzle's expansion chamber have to be modeled.

The differences between the behavior of the water that was used as the active fluid for these

tests and the behavior of the actual plasma that would be used in the real Compression Engine,

and as a result, research would be need to be done on the design of the nozzles themselves, and

how different conditions and flow rates will affect the how the nozzle performs. However, the

results of this furthered research proved concerning when the results of it revealed that when the

velocity of the fluid that is inside the nozzle is less than Mach 1, a decrease in the cross sectional
area of the nozzle will lead to an increase in speed of the substance, however, when the velocity

of the fluid inside the nozzle is greater than Mach 1, increasing the cross sectional area results in

an increase in the speed of the fluid within the nozzle ("Nozzles"). Additionally the heat capacity

of a substance plays a factor at supersonic speeds, where a fluid that has a lower heat capacity

requires a large area ratio to generate high supersonic speeds (Cantwell).

The results of the tests that were done to compare the better performance of the nozzles revealed

a promising increase in performance due to the Venturi effect, which was showcased through the

greater increase in velocity that the water being emitted from the nozzle had when compared to

the Direct Compression nozzle. This would most likely mean that if this was used on a real

engine, than the exhaust velocity of the plasma exhaust would increase and that there would be

less propellant used at one time, which would allow for a longer burn times of the thruster.

Whether the efficiency of the thruster would increase or decrease is unknown, because although

an increase in exhaust velocity is associated with an efficiency increase, this only occurs through

a boost in power, to the ionization system. Additionally, plasma sheaths that form at the plasma

boundaries usually lead to a decrease in efficiency, but how their formation is affected by the

Venturi principle is unknown. However, the key information about how the effect of the Venturi

principle changes with a subsonic versus a supersonic flow, which is that when with a supersonic

flow, an expansion in the nozzle results in an increase of the velocity of the flow. As before

proceeding, this will have to be considered, so more research on the properties, physics, and

behaviors of plasma will have to done before proceeding. Finally, if this information about

subsonic versus supersonic flows in a is confirmed to be true, and that it will affect the

Compression Engine, the nozzle will need to be resigned, possibly in a way that incorporates a

convergence first and then an output that diverges.

Works Cited

1. Cantwell, Brian. "Gasdynamics of Nozzle Flow." Fundamentals of Compressible

Flow, 2007.
2. Fluid Flow, Ideal Flow, Bernoulli's Principle. University of Australia.
3. Ilin, et al. "Simulation of Plasma Detachment in VASIMR." Simulation of Plasma

Detachment in VASIMR, Jan. 2002, pp. 5-11

4. Keidar, M., and I. Beilis. Plasma Flow and Plasma-Wall Transition in a Hall

Thruster. Dec. 2001.

5. Kirk, D. R. "Rockets and Mission Analysis." Mechanical and Aerospace

Engineering Department, Florida Institute of Technology. Speech.

6. Magnetic Nozzles. Princeton Electric Propulsion and Plasma Dynamics Laboratory, Accessed 13 Mar. 2017.

7. Marquardt, Timothy. An overview of the VASIMR Thruster Concept. Auburn

8. Martinez, Mario. "Magnetic Nozzles." Analysis of Magnetic Nozzles for Space

Plasma Thrusters, Technical U of Madrid, 2013, pp. 9-39.

9. Martinez, Mario. "Near Region Expansion and Acceleration." Analysis of Magnetic

Nozzles for Space Plasma Thrusters, Technical U of Madrid, 2013, pp. 55-79.
10. Meyers, et al. "Mechanical Engineering Lab: Venturi Lab." University of Vermont.

11. Myers, Roger, et al. MPD Thruster Performance MPD Thruster Technology.
12. Nozzles. Accessed 29 Mar.

13. Polyaev, V. M., and V. A. Burkaltsev. "Thermodynamic Cycles of Rocket

Engines." Thermal to Mechanical Energy Conversion.

14. Sanchez, Martinez, and J. Polland. "Spacecraft Electric Propulsion-An Overview."

Journal of Propulsion and Power, vol. 14, no. 5, Sept.-Oct. 1998, pp. 688-94.
15. Shaw, Margaret. "Introduction." A Novel Thrust Measurement Method for Plasma
Rockets with Magnetic Nozzles Using B-Field Measurements, Princeton U,
2012, pp. 1-12.