The so-called HPT (Helicon plasma thruster) Is an electrical device that generates space propulsion by generating plasma based on radio frequency. This is a novel space electric propulsion technology that can replace the currently used engines and has attracted the interest of many companies and institutions.
The Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) and SENER Aeroespacial have developed a prototype of HPT, the first ignition of which was carried out at the European Space Agency (ESA) Electric Propulsion Laboratory at the end of 2015. , They have carried out various design evolutions, these changes have been tested in university facilities and will be reflected in the new engineering model being developed.
Now, the European Union has appointed a consortium led by SENER Aeroespacial to continue the development of HPT projects within the framework of the European Union Research and Innovation Framework Program Horizon 2020. This is the HIPATIA project (Helicon plasma thruster for space applications), the UC3M-SENER team will cooperate with Airbus, the French National Center for Scientific Research and Advanced Space Technologies of Germany.
HPT motor operation
The HPT thruster consists of an antenna that emits radio frequency waves in a cylindrical chamber and an electromagnetic nozzle for supersonic acceleration. Hot plasma is generated in the cylindrical chamber. It is a device without grids, electrodes or solid nozzles, which has great advantages in terms of simple operation and service life.
Spiral plasma thrusters are electric and use less propellant than chemical rocket engines, thereby reducing the cost of launching satellites or increasing their payload capacity at the same price. At the same time, compared with other electrical systems (such as ion engines and Hall engines), the thrust capacity per unit power is expected to be higher, thereby shortening the travel time.
The HPT prototype to be tested is optimized for applications in the medium power range of 400-600 watts. Pablo Fajardo said the technology “may be effective for all types of satellites or interplanetary travel.” In the future, the high-power version of HPT can be used for manned flights to Mars or cargo vehicles between the ground and the moon, as well as possible space debris removal or space refueling procedures.
Within the framework of this project, scientists and technicians will face challenges related to the integration of a complete electric propulsion system, which includes a propulsion unit, an RF and power generation unit, and a propellant flow control unit.
The new consortium will start activities on January 1, 2020, and will jointly test the operation of new prototypes for small space platforms in the next 30 months. As the first event, representatives of all related entities met for the first time at the SENER Aeroespacial headquarters of UC3M and Tres Cantos in Madrid from January 28th to 29th.
He explained: “Considering the relatively simple and robust design of HPT technology, the HIPATIA project has the potential to provide a cost-effective electric motor solution for small satellites weighing less than half a ton and power requirements less than 750 watts.” The University of Bioengineering and Aviation Pablo Fajardo, head of the Space Propulsion and Plasma Group (EP2) of the Department of Aerospace Engineering, is the project leader at UC3M.
In the words of Mercedes Ruiz Haro, project coordinator and project manager of the SENER Aerospace Flight Systems and Avionics Department: “HIPATIA is another step in the development of commercial HPT technology. At the end of the project funded by the European Union, we will have a proven The complete propulsion system is ready for the first demonstration of its potential on orbit.
This model can be used in future non-geostationary satellite constellations, which is a new idea that is being developed and has important initiatives. For example, satellite clusters located in different orbital planes are deployed at an altitude of about 1,200 kilometers to provide broadband Internet services covering the world, including all people living in no available space. .