Seminar Report On


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With proud and pleasure I submit this Seminar entitled ELECTRIC ROCKET ENGINE. I am very much grateful to the almighty for giving me strength and ability to accomplish this task. I convey my hearty thanks to all the persons who helped me in this attempt.

I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to Mr. Jacob Joseph, our Head of Department and all the staffs of Govt. Polytechnic College, Periya for supporting me.

Finally I convey my gratitude to my friends for extending their helping hands on various occasions.



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Chemically powered. Most rocket engines are internal combustion engines. or simply "rocket. are by far the lightest. Since they need no external material to form their jet. such as missiles. Various Types of rocket engines such as Physically powered. nuclear powered etc are used. although non combusting forms also exist. Rocket engines are reaction engines and obtain thrust in accordance with Newton's third law. and are the least energy efficient of all types of jet engines." is a jet engine that uses only propellant mass for forming its high speed propulsive jet. Page 4 . Rocket engines as a group have the highest exhaust velocities.Introduction A rocket engine. Thermal Powered. Electrical powered. rocket engines can be used for spacecraft propulsion as well as terrestrial uses.

work by burning two gases to create heat. like those on the space shuttle." The advantage of having a higher specific impulse engine is that you need considerably less fuel to accomplish the mission. To understand how. it would have a specific impulse of 740. That "370" is a measure for the combined efficiency of the engines and the propellants burned in them. Electric rocket engines use less fuel than chemical engines and therefore hold the potential for accomplishing missions that are impossible for chemical systems. In so doing they create the thrust that lifts the shuttle into orbit. For getting to very distant parts of the solar system chemical engines have the drawback in that it takes an enormous amount of fuel to deliver the payload. Smaller chemical engines are used to change orbits or to keep satellites in a particular orbit. If we could discover a different chemical combination that produced twice as much thrust for the same amount of fuel. The units of specific impulse are "seconds. which would mean that it would need even less Page 5 . work by burning two gases to create heat. Electric rocket engines use less fuel than chemical engines and therefore hold the potential for accomplishing missions that are impossible for chemical systems.Types of Rocket Engines Conventional type of Chemical rocket engines.000 pounds of propellant. like those on the space shuttle.000.000.000 pounds of it's total take off weight of 6. For getting to very distant parts of the solar system chemical engines have the drawback in that it takes an enormous amount of fuel to deliver the payload. Take the Saturn V rocket. if it had a specific impulse of 700 seconds and could still produce the same level of thrust it would only need 2. Chemical rocket engines. Smaller chemical engines are used to change orbits or to keep satellites in a particular orbit. Take one pound of the hydrogen/oxygen propellants used by the shuttle's main engines and burn it in one second and you'd generate 370 pounds of thrust.500. which causes the gases to expand and exit the engine through a nozzle.000 pounds was fuel. we have to understand a number called specific impulse. Take that much weight off it and the structure could be made lighter. In so doing they create the thrust that lifts the shuttle into orbit. which causes the gases to expand and exit the engine through a nozzle. Consider the Saturn V rocket that put men on the moon: 5.

The way around this problem is simple: we cheat. Page 6 . There is a limit to this and we've already pretty much reached it with the shuttle engines. and so on. The problem is that all the energy for chemical engines comes from the energy stored in the propellants. Reducing the weight of the fuel by increasing the specific impulse is one of the most powerful ways of reducing the overall weight of a spaceship.fuel.

electric rocket engines only work in the vacuum of space because atmospheric pressures hinder the physical processes by which they create thrust. In fact. (Electric engines make up for this by running for months or years instead of minutes like chemical engines. Sounds great but there are three problems. First. offsetting the savings realized from reducing the propellant.) Second. because space power systems only put out small amounts of power compared to chemical engines. In spite of these problems." where Page 7 . Because the energy no longer comes from the propellants. Plotting the combined propellant and power supply mass results in a graph that looks like a "U. In so doing the total impulse (amount of thrust multiplied by the time the engine burns) can actually be greater. In the simplest concept an electric heater is used to increase the temperature of the propellant above what it could get through combustion.) Third. we also now have a much wider range of propellant options since they no longer have to be able to combust. Going hand in hand with this is the fact that as specific impulse increases so does the amount of electrical power needed to run the engines (at the same thrust) so the mass of the power supply increases. dozens of small electric thruster are already in space performing many low-thrust missions much better than their chemical counterparts. the mass of propellant needed decreases for a specific mission.Electric Rocket Engines Instead of relying only on the energy stored in the propellants. The higher the temperature the greater the expansion and the more thrust per pound of propellant is obtained. the amount of thrust electric rocket engines produce is very small: on the order of pounds or even fractions of a pound instead of the tens of thousands to millions of pounds of thrust chemical engines produce. As the specific impulse provided by an engine increases. (If the specific impulse is high enough the propellant needed is reduced so much that even with the power supply weight added in the total ship weight is reduced. we can add energy using electricity. millions of dollars are being invested every year to develop electric rocket engines because in the long run they are destined to play a major roll in humankind's conquest of space. you need a power supply to provide the electricity and this adds weight to the rocket ship.

and 2. Page 8 . So. While the number varies with thruster efficiency. power supply density and so on. what do these electric rocket engines look like and how do they work? The following simple diagrams and explanations will help introduce you to this interesting field: Electrothermal Rocket Engines: This class of electric rocket engine works by heating a propellant. Diagram of a resistojet In real resistojets the conductor is a coiled tube through which the propellant flows.000 sec for orbit transfers.000 sec for interplanetary missions. Spacecraft designers use this graph to determine the optimum specific impulse and power for the mission in question. Resistojets: A resistojet simply uses electricity passing through a resistive conductor. expands.000-6.the bottom-most part of the "U" is the optimal point where total spacecraft weight is at a minimum. This is done to get maximum heat transfer from the conductor to the propellant. exits through a nozzle and creates thrust. to heat a gas as it passes over the conductor. As the conductor heats up the gas is heated. something like the wires in your toaster.000-2.000 sec for orbit maintenance missions. as a general rule of thumb you want specific impulses on the order of 300-1. 1.

(Don't sneer at this. (Mission directors hate it when that happens. the engine in your car is at best only 25 percent efficient. Dozens of them are currently in orbit helping satellites maintain their orbits.Almost any gas and even some liquids can be used as fuel. Hydrogen.) Resistojets can be scaled down to very small sizes. that they can operate using residual electrical power already available on the satellite. ammonia and many other fuels have also been used. For a given engine and power level. Typically they convert 50 percent of the electric energy passed through them into thrust energy. They use so little power.) This may not sound very high but resistojets are designed for small-thrust missions like orbital station keeping and the best chemical engines in this range only have specific impulses of 200 sec or less. A space-qualified hydrazine resistojet As with any electrical device. Next time you're watching the Superbowl you can probably than a resistojet for keeping the satellite transmitting the signal to be where it should be for you to pick it up. there's a solution: the arcjet. anywhere from ones that fit in shoe boxes to others as small as a thimble. nitrogen.. Because of their increased specific impulse they need hundreds of pounds of fuel less than the next best chemical engine. the most common being hydrazine (N2H4). making it easy to tailor them to any low thrust mission.. The problem with resistojets is that the physical limitations of the conductor means that the maximum temperature they can achieve is 1800 degrees C. Page 9 . That's weight that can be used for more propellant. resistojets are not perfectly efficient.) Fortunately. Resistojets produce thrusts on the order of small fractions of a pound. Run them hotter than this and they start to melt. so the satellite can remain on orbit years longer. or for extra payload. 350 watts or less and then only intermittently. the lighter the propellant the higher the specific impulse and the lower the thrust. Hydrogen produces very high specific impulses (as high as 400 sec.

typically 1 to 2 kilowatts. this means the propellant gets heated to much higher temperatures (typically 3.000 degrees C. Several are currently in orbit.Arcjets: An arcjet is simply a resistojet where instead of passing the gas through a heating coil it's passed through an electric arc.00 degrees C.) than in resistojets and in so doing achieve higher specific impulses. anywhere from 800 sec for ammonia to 2. A small space-qualified Arcjet Page 10 . Diagram of an Arcjet Because arcs can achieve temperatures of 15. like station keeping of large satellites. and used for higher thrust applications.000 seconds for hydrogen. Arcjets tend to be higher power devices.

For station keeping missions they aren't on long enough for the heating to be a serious problem. But it could be for large engines designed to operate for long periods of time.Hydrogen Arcjet Firing Ammonium Arcjet Firing The largest arcjet used in space was a 26 kilowatt engine operating on ammonia with a specific impulse of 800 sec. They suffer the disadvantage that this power coupling may be inefficient and the the microwave or inductive power itself may be inefficient to Page 11 . It was part of the USAF's ESEX space experiment program. Arcjets can run at up to 35 percent efficiency. Electrodeless Electrothermal Engines: There are several variants of the resistojet or arcjet engine that use microwaves or some sort of inductive coupling to heat the propellant. Two problems hounds arcjets: the electrodes run glowing hot causing erosion and this heat can get conducted to the spacecraft heating it to unacceptable levels. They have some advantage in that power can be coupled directly to the propellant without having to heat part of the engine. Arcjets don't scale down as easily as resistojets and the smallest are small shoe-box affairs.

inert gas) for propellant.produce. Ion engine diagram As propellant enters the ionization chamber (the small ns on the left). Electrostatic Rocket Engines: Ion engines: Rub a balloon against your hair or shirt and then hold it near your arm. accelerating them to very high velocities. As these ions drift between two screens at the right hand side of the ionization chamber. the strong electric field of the "+" side repels them and the "-" side attracts them. Bring the balloon near the carpet and bits of lint will be pulled to it. which creates an electrostatic field. they in turn push back against the engine creating thrust. There are working models of these in laboratories but none have been used to support and actual mission. giving it an electrostatic charge. This means that they have an electric field around them like the balloon. Ion thrusters typically use Xenon (A very heavy. The ions leave the engine and since the engine pushes on them to accelerate them. have specific Page 12 . What's happening is that electrons have been deposited onto or removed from the balloon depending on what it was rubbed against. A similar field can be used to produce thrust in a rocket engine called an ion thruster. electrons (small -s in the middle) emitted from the central hot cathode and attracted to the outer anode collide with them knocking an electron off and causing the atoms of the propellant to become ionized (+s on the right). the hairs on your arm will feel tingly and be attracted to the balloon.

such as a comet encounter. Given an electrical charge.impulses in the 3. the exiting ions would slowly cause a charge to build up in the spacecraft that could interfere with its operation and create a pull on the ions that would reduce the thrust. An average thruster is one to two feet in diameter. With their high specific impulses they are well suited to deep space types of missions. produces thrust on the order of small fractions of a pound and weighs some tens of pounds. Without this. A typical ion engine Downstream of the exhaust is a hot cathode emitter that injects electrons into the exhaust stream.000 range and efficiencies up to 60 percent. these microdroplets.000 to 6. Colloid Thruster: A colloid is a microdroplet like inkjet printers use to spray their ink on paper. An ion engine firing Ion thrusters are well developed and have been used on a few space missions. or colloids. can be accelerated in a Page 13 . You can see the small electron emitter in the upper right corner of the picture above.

the specific impulse can be lowered and thrust increased to make a better fit for a particular mission. across a conductor that can slide down the rails while maintaining contact.000 sec. Electromagnetic Rocket Engines: This is by far the largest group of electric thrusters with many different techniques used to create thrust. This is the Lorentz force. Although colloid thrusters have been around almost as long as ion engines they have not been developed to flight status. As widely divergent as these thrusters may seem they all use the same principle: the Lorentz force. Rail guns: Drive enough current down one side of two parallel conducting rails.thruster similar to an ion thruster. If the current is flowing through a solid conductor or even a gas the gas will be pushed out as well. The advantage of a colloid thruster is that because the individual particles being accelerated are so much larger and heavier than the atoms in a regular ion engine. and up the other side and you have a rail gun. the magnetic field will push against the current. Also. Diagram of a single colloid thruster emitter Many of these would be tied together to create a single large thruster. In the laboratory they typically have specific impulses around 1. Mount such a device on a space ship and you have an electric rocket engine. The current flowing in the rails create a strong Page 14 . If you have an electric current flowing perpendicular to a magnetic field. the variety of propellants that can be used is much greater.

the length of the rails makes a practical application of this concept difficult to imagine.magnetic field between them. Also. The same current flowing across the sliding conductor is the current the magnetic field wants to push away. Pump enough power into the thing and the sliding conductor will be accelerated to thousands of feet per second. Put it on a spacecraft and you have a rocket engine. as the sliding conductor accelerates down the rails contact friction and erosion from arcing between the contacts erodes the rails. A weapon-type rail gun firing While such a propulsion system would work in principle. Page 15 . You'll need to added something like a machine gun feeder to supply it with a constant source of sliding projectiles (which we should now call "propellant" since we're using it as a rocket engine) but that's a simple mechanical engineering problem. Mount the beast on a tank and you you have an electric cannon. For an engine such a device would have to fire repeatedly over a long period of time and this erosion could be a problem.

The engine would still work because the plasma would continue conducting current and be blown out the end of the gun. The problem with them is the electrodes wear out from handling all the current and they eat up enormous amounts of power: on the order of megawatts. Flatten and bend one of the rails around in a tube surrounding the other rail and you have an MPD thruster. but anything that can be pumped into them can be used. (When I was working in the lab I always wanted to run one of vaporized sodium metal.000 sec or higher range. There is currently no space power system that comes even close to this level.) Using hydrogen would push the specific impulse into the 15. In laboratories they usually run on argon. Typical performances numbers are 30 percent efficiency at 2. MPD thruster firing Page 16 .Magnetoplasmadynamic (MPD) Thrusters: Crank the power up on the rail gun high enough and the sliding conductor would vaporize.500 sec specific impulse. MPD thruster diagram MPD thrusters are unique among the electric rocket engine fraternity because they are capable of producing thrusts as high as 50 pounds in an engine small enough to fix in a large shoe box.

The interplay of this magnetic field and the electric field between the anode propellant injectors and the electron cloud created outside of the thruster causes a current (called the Hall current) to be induced to flow azimuthally around the open annulus in the thruster.Because of their compact size and potential for high thrust MPD thrusters are one of the few viable options for primary propulsion on high-mass. Diagram of a Hall thruster Electromagnets around the outside cylinder and inside core create a magnetic field pointing radially inward. out of the thruster to create thrust. and the gas it's traveling through. Hall Thrusters: These engines are popular with the Russians and over 100 have been used on their space missions. Page 17 . I like to think of them as being the progenitors of the impulse engines of Star Trek fame. The magnetic field pushes on the current and accelerates it. deep space missions.

use 1 to 5 kilowatts of power. The SPT has insulating walls on the acceleration chamber and is longer. produce less than one pound of thrust.Picture of a Hall thruster.200 sec specific impulse. Typical thrusters in US laboratories are a foot or so across. and are 50 to 60 percent efficient. Hall thrusters come in two main variants: the Stationary Plasma Thruster (SPT) and the Thruster with Anode Layer (TAL). Page 18 . Hall thruster firing New designs using vaporized bismuth can have efficiencies as high as 70 percent making them the efficiency rulers in the electric propulsion world. operate at 2. the TAL has conducting material lining the walls and is shorter. They are noted for their durability. Note the electron gun mounted on top of the thruster.

This induced current will flow around the ring in the direction opposite to the coil.000 and 5. before it can dissipate into the vacuum of space. creating thrust. Page 19 . sexy looking thrusters up to a meter in diameter.000 pulses per second with specific impulses between 2. Pulse current through the coil and a second current will be induced to flow through the ring. If the current in the coil is high enough and increases fast enough. Efficiencies can be as high as 50 percent. are big. The current pulse through the coil is synchronized with the gas pulse so that the gas is ionized and accelerated away. If enough current is forced through the coil the ring will shoot straight up into the air. We now have another case of a current (flowing in the ring) moving perpendicular to a magnetic field (created by the coil and directed along the coil's axis) so the Lorentz law tells us there will be a force on the ring wanting to push it away.000 sec and thrusts of fractions of a pound to tens of pounds. They operate in a pulsed mode at up to 1.Pulsed Inductive Thrusters: Imagine an electromagnet sitting on its end on a table. beautiful. Pulsed Inductive Thruster The only difference between actual PIT thrusters and the coil analogy is that a special valve and nozzle unit mounted in the center of the coil directs a short pulse of gas down to cover the face of the coil. Even in the gaseous state it'll still conduct the current and be accelerated away from the coil. That's what a pulsed inductive thruster is. Now place a metal ring on top of it. Pulsed inductive thrusters. the ring will be vaporized and ionized.

The coils could heat to the point where increased electrical resistance could cause problems or even melting. When it's desired to fire it. Just like the rail gun and magnetoplasmadynamic thruster.Although the inductive coupling between the engine and plasma should imply that there is no erosion as there is in the MPD thruster. a energy storage unit discharges an arc across the face of the propellant. eating up tens of kilowatts to megawatts of electricity. a bar of solid propellant (could be anything but Teflon is the usual fuel of choice) is spring loaded against two stops near the exit of the thruster. As the propellant bar is eroded. Pulsed Plasma Thrusters: These small electric thrusters have been around for decades and have flown on many space missions performing station keeping functions. Page 20 . Pulsed Plasma Thruster diagram In the pulsed plasma thruster. the spring pushes it forward for the next pulse. ablating a small amount of the Teflon bar. These engines are also power gluttons. at high pulse rates the large surface area of the engine will be exposed to the thermal loading of having a virtually constant plasma mere centimeters from it. the current flowing through the vaporized propellant ionizes it and reacts with the magnetic field created by the current to accelerate the propellant out of the engine. creating thrust.

They have to be operated in the pulsed mode but can be pulsed rapidly to provide almost continuous thrust. specific impulses of 1. have efficiencies around 30 percent. and robust. They typically use 30 watts or less power. reliable.000 seconds. Page 21 .Pulsed Plasma Thruster Pulsed Plasma thruster firing These engines are extremely simple. and thrust levels measured in micropounds to millipounds.

The difference is that a mass driver uses pulsed electromagnets lined up down the length of the runway to pull on the projectile. therefore a valve is not required.Field Emission Electric Propulsion (FEEP) Thrusters: These are extremely small thrusters that operate somewhat like a colloid thruster in that they have a sharp propellant emitters. ionization occurs as a side effect of the emission process so an ionization chamber isn't required. Mass Drivers: A mass driver is similar to a rail gun in that it accelerates a solid projectile down a long runway.000 seconds and use melted indium as a propellant. The difference is that in the FEEP the emitter is so small that individual ions are pulled from the emitter instead of droplets. capillary action both draws the liquid propellant into it and prevents it from exhausting into space. accelerating it to high speeds and thereby generating thrust. Mass drivers are attractive because they can be extremely efficient (as high as 95 percent) run cool and can be designed so there is no guide rail wear.001 millimeters across.000 to 12. only 0. Field Emission Electric Propulsion thruster Because the emitter hole or slit is so small. The problem Page 22 . Also. FEEPs typically have specific impulses from 6.

and heavy that it's doubtful they could ever be used for propulsion. high temperature superconductor they may yet have a place in the electric propulsion pantheon. if someone could develop a lightweight. Page 23 .is that they are so long. hundreds to thousands of feet. But.

Robert Jahn.000. While such low thrusts can achieve enormous velocities if operated for years. Electric propulsion research is extremely expensive. multi-megawatt space power systems continue to be too heavy to make EP for primary propulsion attractive. It would be impossible to chronicle all of them but I hope the thrusters that have been represented on this page provide a basic understanding of the world of electric propulsion. the mass alone of the thermal radiators required to dump the waste heat into space would drive the weight of such systems up to at least 10 kilograms per kilowatt. I've heard of claims that fluidized bed or gaseous core reactors will provide power densities on the order of one kilowatt of per kilogram of mass.000 to build and hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to operate. These are always variations of the thrusters outlined in this page and attempt to get around one problem or another through an innovative geometry. The bible for electric propulsion is the text: The Physics of Electric Propulsion by Dr. Only on very Page 24 . It takes a PhD and many years of working with these devices to understand them at the current state of the art. even with a multi-megawatt power supply the thrust provided by the highest thrust engines is only measured in tens of pounds. Second. While many of the thrusters can be manufactured for a few thousands of dollars. or other concept. The explanations of the thrusters on this page are oversimplifications of what are in fact extremely complex devices. Even if the mass of the reactor was zero and the thermal efficiency was an incredible 50 percent. but as an engineer who worked in this field for years I have to warn the over enthusiastic that such claims are almost certainly off by an order of magnitude. There are many problems with using electric propulsion for primary propulsion missions.CONCLUSION Hardly a year goes by in the electric propulsion world without someone thinking up a new concept. First. the enormous vacuum chamber required to test one of them can easily top $1. such slow delivery speeds are unattractive for manned missions and politically difficult to sell. ionization scheme.

or change in velocity. of 14 miles per hour. it's going to blow off 1. from a typical thruster running at 40 percent efficiency and 2. But. and heavier. To reject the 150 kilowatts of waste heat from the power conditioner requires a heat radiator (figuring a very optimistic 5 kilograms per kilowatt for a lightweight aluminum structured system operating at 300 degrees Kelvin) weighing 1. Higher temperature. lowest mass actual nuclear power system on the drawing board is the Rankine cycle. metals and heat pipes have to be employed. This reduces the area because the higher the temperature the radiator works at the less area it needs.556 pounds.270 pounds. That means the power supply by itself will weigh 165. Even at 40 percent efficiency.0047 feet per second per second.650 pounds. Let's take a back-of-the-envelope look at a realistic system: The highest efficiency. which weighs in at 25 kilograms per kilowatt (this includes the thermal rejection system.000 pounds for tankage (this is overly optimistic for pressurized fuels like Argon or Xenon) and another 10.710 kilowatts of thermal power.. and that's without a payload. Third. at an acceptable value for the radiator temperature of 800 degrees Kelvin.) To generate just 50 pounds of thrust requires. Add 20. That puts the grand total for the propulsion system at 204.long missions to the outer planets do long thrusting electric propulsion systems show a time advantage over chemical systems. the propellant will weigh 205. After six months this gives a delta-v.000 pounds for the structure to hold everything together and the grand total comes to 439. which average around 1 kilogram per kilowatt and runs at 95 percent efficiency (another 6. Assuming a mass flow through the thruster of around 6 grams per second (typical for many thrusters operating at the performance parameters stated earlier) and a out-trip thrust time of six months.914 pounds will result in an acceleration of 0.620 pounds of radiator. Now comes the fun part: the thruster. aluminum structures soften and can't be used.000 pounds. Next you need a power conditioner. I can almost run that fast and isn't nearly enough for the ship to escape the Page 25 . Since the engine runs whitehot this heat needs to be rejected at high temperature.. Applying 50 pounds of thrust to an average craft weight of 336. around 3 megawatts.600 pounds).000 seconds specific impulse. So. This drives the specific mass up to 10 kilograms per kilowatt. thermal rejection systems for the engine and power conditioning unit (needed to convert the power from the power system into a flavor that the thruster prefers) can drive the weight of such a system beyond the practical limit. attached to the thruster we'd need 37.285 pounds.

electric propulsion for fast. Page 26 . such a system isn't going to make it as primary propulsion. high mass missions is not going to be viable. until power supply and thermal rejection system specific power densities improve by a factor of 100 or more. Obviously.'s gravity well.

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