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Helicon Plasma Thruster For Space Missions

Programme Reference
Start Date
End Date

The use of helicon sources as thrusters for space propulsion has been envisaged as a robust, scalable, reliable and long-life device. The Helicon Plasma Thruster (HPT) is presented as a potentially durable, throttlable and high thrust-to-power ratio device, with intermediate specific impulse and competitive thrust efficiency.
In order to analyse and demonstrate these potential capabilities "Helicon Plasma Thruster for Space Missions" project presents a wide overview of already existing devices using helicon sources, researchs on possible application scenarios and designs and evaluates future implementation of this technology. In more detail, the project explores the HPT concept, summarizing the working function, processes and main parts of the thruster unit and associated subsystem.
As starting point, the candidate Space missions that could benefit from the HPT technology development are explored for different operational power ranges, extracting different requirements to be accomplished by the thruster in those scenarios. Then a survey of existing thruster prototypes based on helicon technology is done, giving their performance as starting point for designing an own model. This design process is given in detail for a 15kW HPT, analysing the plasma discharge processes with the in-house models and simulation tools implemented by UC3M-EP2 and following the defined criteria to set the optimal system parameters and to obtain the overall thruster performance.
Once the HPT design is produced, the associated subsystem elements that constitute the HPT propulsion system are also sketched, reviewing different options for each of them and proposing a preliminary solution.
The higher level impacts introduced by the whole system at different Space segment levels is also examined, identifying issues and critical aspects that would be important when integrating the HPT in future missions.
Based on the work presented, the system development and preliminary cost plan is established, defining the technology criticalities that has to be overcome, remarking key aspects like the parallel technology development and setting a rational schedule for the project evolution until the complete build-out.
The project concludes with the summary of the achievements, lessons learnt, potential improvements and next steps to be followed.

Executive summary