School Seminar Program

To infinity and beyond: Progress of the Australian Plasma Thruster

Rod Boswell

Professor Rod Boswell
Space Plasma Power and Propulsion

Thanks to a recent funding success with the Australian Space Research Program, SP3 has joined with ASTRIUM-EADS, the largest aerospace company in the world and the Surrey Space Centre to space ready the ANU plasma thruster and to create a large thermal vacuum test facility with RSAA at Mount Stromlo in Canberra. This will be the largest and best equipped facility in the southern hemisphere and will help Australia become a centre for space activities in the South East Asia sphere of influence.

The primary goal is to space qualify the Australian Plasma Thruster (Helicon Double Layer Thruster) by mounting the new prototype on a thrust balance immersed in the 3-m-diam 4-m-long thermal vacuum chamber equipped with cryogenic pumping. Preliminary testing in smaller chambers have already shown that the combination of experimental, theoretical and computational analyses allows the optimization of each discharge mode to suit the required performances (thrust, specific impulse, life time, efficiencies), by quantifying the force from the electron, ion and neutral pressures and the force from the magnetic field pressure. It has been found that the main components of thrust correspond to an axial force on the plasma cavity and an axial force onto the solenoids.

The force on the plasma cavity is a function of the maximum electron pressure in the cavity and the force on the solenoids corresponding to a Lorentz force due to the electron diamagnetic drift current and the applied radial magnetic field. The Lorentz force is greatest near the magnetic nozzle surface where the radial pressure gradient is largest.A ready to fly prototype design with an integrated electronics unit is being developed and optimized for a spacecraft similar to TechDemoSat.

Rod Boswell is a Professor at the Australian National University in the Space Plasma, Power and Propulsion group of the Plasma Research Laboratory. He is active in the fields of plasma processing of surfaces for microelectronics and optoelectronics, plasma thrusters, fuel cells as well as basic linear and non-linear processes in plasmas. Over the past 15 years he has published over 100 papers in major international journals, been granted 7 patents, given about 50 invited lectures in international conferences and presented his group's work to many industrialists in many countries. He has been elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences and has been awarded a Doctorate Honouris Causa by the University of Orleans in France.  Recently he was honoured with a Membership of the Order of Australia. He is a keen skier and long board surfer and has been known to paddle a canoe down very long rivers.


Refreshments will be held in the Tea Room after the Seminar (around 5pm)

All welcome

Date & time

Thu 20 Sep 2012, 4–5pm


Leonard Huxley Lecture Theatre


Staff, students and public welcome