The future of deep space missions may lie in electrodeless plasma thrusters (EPTs), which generate and accelerate the plasma without any exposed electrodes. EPTs may offer significant advantages over traditional plasma thrusters, but much of the physics of this new type of space propulsion remains a mystery. The EU-funded ZARATHUSTRA project will unravel the physical underpinnings of EPTs. Using a multidisciplinary approach that combines novel numerical simulation methods and dedicated experiments with state-of-the-art data analysis techniques, the project will formulate the first complete theory of electromagnetic heating and anomalous transport in EPTs and devise control solutions to minimise plasma losses. Finally, the project will also assess the feasibility and advantages of a disruptive non-cylindrical EPT concept.
Project ZARATHUSTRA aims to fulfill the following overarching goal:
Unravel the physical underpinnings of electrodeless plasma thrusters and revolutionize their design.
The project will meet this goal by accomplishing the following three fundamental objectives:
- Reveal the underlying physics of electromagnetic plasma heating in electrodeless plasma thrusters and identify the optimal power deposition mechanisms, frequencies, and geometries.
- Elucidate the role of plasma turbulence, wall interactions, and applied electromagnetic fields on anomalous particle, momentum, and energy transport in electrodeless plasma thrusters and develop control strategies to minimize plasma losses.
- Establish a first laboratory-scale proof of concept of the disruptive electrodeless magnetic arch thruster to determine its feasibility, study its physics and operation, and identify potential advantages and issues.