Helicon Plasma Thrusters (HPT)

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Helicon Plasma Thrusters (HPT) electric propulsion device.

The Helicon Plasma Thrusters (HPT) are electric in Space propulsion devices based on radiofrequency plasma generation. The resulting plasma is afterwards accelerated by means of a magnetic nozzle to produce thrust. These engines are characterised by their simplicity, operation flexibility and a prospective high thrust-to-power ratio. The HPT technology has been investigated for some decades by different scientific institutions, with the objective of understanding the underlying physics defining its behaviour while developing numerical models and experimental breadboards.

Departing from those scientific developments, SENER has designed and assembled a 1 KW-class HPT experimental platform in tight collaboration with the Plasma and Electric Propulsion (EP2) group in the Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M). Within this partnership, SENER is in charge of the development  of the radiofrequency generation and control unit required for a controlled and adaptable power feed to the HPT engine. In the same way, SENER is also responsible for the design, systems engineering and integration of the complete thruster prototype.

Test campaigns are an important part of the HPT development activities. After the first thruster firing during a test campaign at European Space Agency (ESA) facilities in 2015, the prototype has been extensively tested at the EP2-UC3M in-Space electric propulsion laboratory in Leganés, Madrid. These campaigns are key to investigate the physical mechanisms involved in the HPT, allowing the team to actively and continuously improve the thruster performances, with the aim to construct a functional and flight representative model in the near term.

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