Spacecraft Electric Propulsion


Credit Hours:


Spacecraft electric propulsion technology is increasingly developed by NASA and the aerospace industry as the central technology for propelling spacecrafts in deep space missions and for maneuvering the miniature satellites in Earth orbits. As a result, electric propulsion-related research and careers are increasingly being pursued by our faculty and students. This course is created to teach fundamental underlying principles and practical applications of electric propulsion to prepare students for research and careers in the field of electric propulsion.

Spacecraft electric propulsion systems are intended to provide thrust for propelling spacecrafts in interplanetary missions, orbital maneuvers, and attitude control. The course starts with reviewing material on the mechanics and thermodynamics of propulsion, and identifying the niche occupied by the electric propulsion systems. The course covers elements of plasma physics and electromagnetic theory essential for studying the electric propulsion systems. The core of the course focuses on studying various electric propulsion concepts that utilize electric power produced on-board to generate thrust. Mechanisms of the utilization of electric power to accelerate gas or plasma and produce thrust will be considered, including electrothermal, electrostatic, electromagnetic, and gas dynamic acceleration mechanisms.



AAE334 or equivalent; PHYS 241 or equivalent; permission of instructor.

Passing an undergraduate-level electricity and magnetism course is a requirement, although fundamentals of the electromagnetic theory will be reviewed during the course.


By the end of the semester, successful students will be able:

  1. To demonstrate a fundamental understanding of concepts and acceleration mechanisms utilized in electric propulsion systems (electrothermal, electrostatic, electromagnetic).
  2. To perform analysis of an electrothermal accelerator at a given frozen flow fraction.
  3. To perform analysis of ion acceleration in space-charge limited electrostatic accelerators.
  4. To perform basic analysis of plasma acceleration in a crossed-field electromagnetic thruster.
  5. To identify an optimal electric propulsion system based on specific mission requirements.


Course Schedule and Topics Covered