Electrothermal plasma thruster

Boswell Technologies has an agreement with the Australian National University to commercialise the electrothermal plasma thruster developed by the Space Plasma Power and Propulsion Laboratory in the Research School of Physics.

This thruster is designed to be used on micro-satellites such as CubeSats and can use a variety of propellants. In the simplest form it is just a cold gas thruster that can employ inert gasses such as xenon and molecules including air, carbon dioxide, naphthalene  and water. Such a thruster would be used for simple manoeuvres such as spacecraft detumbling, orientation and short term station keeping.

For missions requiring higher thrust and ISP, either a simple heating element can be placed at the nozzle or a fast switch-on radio frequency-plasma can energise a plasma discharge that can transfer energy from plasma ions to neutrals, heat them to high temperatures and increase the thrust by over 100 per cent.

At present we are working on mission profiles and thruster designs that require a high DV of a few 100 so that satellites launched into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at altitudes of around 250 km can have their orbits raised to around 500km. The reason for this is that is it relatively inexpensive for earth launched rockets to place the satellites at as low an orbit as possible thus requiring the satellite to increase its orbit using a Hohmann procedure of two thruster burns. Elon Musk has used this is the procedure for the Starlink constellation.

For planetary missions, and those requiring a high ISP, a completely new ion thruster concept has been developed that can produce positively charged ion beams from a plasma without requiring a separate electron source neutraliser.