The Helicon Plasma Thruster

The main innovation that the HIPATIA project offers is the Helicon Plasma Thruster (HPT) , a disruptive electromagnetic thruster that means a great simplification when comparing it with other electrostatic thrusters such as the Hall Effect Thruster (HET) or the Grid Ion Engines (GIE). This is thanks to a simpler assembly concept and to the absence of elements such as grids, electrodes or neutralisers. Here you can find more information about the technology behind our project.

How does HPT work?

  1. The propellant, typically an inert gas, is injected in the dielectric chamber, and is ionised by the electromagnetic radiofrequency field created by the antenna and the magnets. This process produces hot plasma within the chamber and shapes a divergent topology.
  2. The divergent magnetic topology creates a magnetic nozzle that channels the supersonic plasma flow.
  3. The thermic energy of the plasma gets transformed into axially ion kinetic one, thus producing thrust.

The HIPATIA System

The HPT is included within the Thruster Unit (TU), the main unit of the HIPATIA System. In order for this to operate appropriately, it shall be provided with the required conditioned RF power and propellant flux. These important inputs need to be properly managed by adequate sensing and control means. In this sense, the HIPATIA System counts with:

  • An RFGPU to power and control the whole System. It converts direct current power from the spacecraft into the required radiofrequency power that thruster antenna requires.
  • A PFCU to manage the propellant expansion and flow from the tanks to the thruster.

Main advantages of the HIPATIA system

  • Reduced system cost: the HPT does not require large voltages to operate, so it does not require grids, electrodes or other complex elements that raise the manufacture price.
  • Less operation costs: the HPT uses less propellant than a chemical rocket engine, reducing satellite launch costs and increasing their load capacity.
  • Longer lifetime: the electrodeless concept and the magnetically shielded chamber walls reduce erosion during operation.
  • Use of different propellants: the HIPATIA system conception enables the use of almost any gas as propellant, including CO2.
  • Higher thrust capacity per unit of power than other electric propulsion systems, such as Gridded Ion Engines and Hall Effect Thrusters.