The 90-foot radio telescope at the Peach Mountain Observatory. Credit: Daniel Smith, engineering undergraduate studentA subset of faculty members in Gas Dynamics and Dynamics and Controls develop spacecraft and advanced spacecraft subsystems such as propulsion and control systems. Experimental and computational studies center around spacecraft electric propulsion (EP) systems, such as Hall thrusters. Michigan is developing 10-W EP systems that are small enough to fit on a chip for cubesat propulsion, and 200-kW thrusters that are large enough to drive piloted missions to asteroids and Mars.

Cubesats in orbit around Earth are currently used to observe plasmas in the atmosphere that are known to disrupt satellite communication with Earth.



Space Systems
NameLab website
Iain Boyd Nonequilibrium Gas and Plasma Dynamics Laboratory
James Cutler Michigan Exploration Laboratory
Tamas Gombosi (joint with CLaSP) Center for Space Environment Modeling
Benjamin Jorns (Winter 2017) Plasmadynamics and Electric Propulsion Laboratory
Thomas Zurbuchen (joint with CLasP) The Solar and Heliospheric Research Group

Selected Projects

Nested Channel Hall Thrusters

To improve upon the thruster system power per unit mass of traditional single channel Hall thrusters, a unique nested channel Hall thruster was developed at PEPL. This project studies the performance and plume characteristics of various nested channel thruster configurations to enhance understanding of discharge channel interactions and to study high-thrust and high-Isp modes of operation. The success of the 1st-generation, < 20 kW, nested channel thruster (the X2) has demonstrated that a 200 kW version (under development) could easily surpass the performance of VASIMR. Learn more on the PEPL site

 In order to better understand the physics of channel coupling, and to help reduce costs associated with laboratory testing, a modelling and simulation effort for nested channel Hall thrusters is underway at NGPDL. Learn more on the NGPDL site 

Cubesat Ambipolar Thruster

The Cubesat Ambipolar Thruster (CAT), a new plasma propulsion system, will be able to push small spacecraft like cubesats around in orbit or far beyond the Earth. Cubesats are a type of nanosatellite made up of 10x10x10-cm units (1U) and cost 1,000 to 10,000 times less to develop and launch than conventional satellites. Currently, these cubesats hitch a ride on larger rockets, and once in space, they drift around Earth, trapped in their original orbit until they eventually de-orbit and burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. CAT is a plasma propulsion system designed to fit in 1U of a 3U (or larger) cubesat, which will extend the potential destinations of these cubesats into interplanetary space. Learn more on the PEPL site

Nanoparticle Micropropulsion

The Nanoparticle Field Extraction Thruster (NanoFET) is a micropropulsion technology that electrostatically charges and accelerates micro- and nano-particles to generate thrust. Designed in a flat-panel configuration for scalability to different spacecraft power levels, NanoFET is anticipated to provide a large propulsive envelope capable of accomplishing a range of missions not currently possible with a single propulsion system. In addition, NanoFET also has potential applications as a generalized nano-particle accelerator for terrestrial uses in the fields of materials processing, environmental remediation and biomedicine. Learn more on the PEPL site

Cubesat investigating Atmospheric Density Response to Extreme driving

The CADRE satellite, designed and built by engineering students, will gather data on how the upper atmosphere reacts to the aurora. The bread-loaf-sized device carries a measuring instrument built by the Naval Research Laboratory (the Wind Ion Neutral Composition Suite). If the satellite is successful, it will be joined by several others to produce a more complete picture of atmosphere-aurora interactions (the Armada mission). Learn more on the MXL site

Space systems facilities

Plasmadynamics and Electric Propulsion LaboratoryProfessor Alec GallimoreImage by Laura Rudich | Michigan Engineering

Learn more