reaction-propulsion engine

Plasma propulsion engine

A plasma propulsion engine is a kind of Ion thruster which uses plasma in some or all parts of the thrust generation process. Though far less powerful than conventional rocket engines, plasma engines are able to operate at higher efficiencies and for longer periods of time. Plasma engines are better suited for long-distance Interplanetary space travel missions.

Plasma propulsion engines were first developed by Russia during 1963-1965 to propel spacecraft to Mars. In more recent years, many agencies have developed several forms of plasma fueled engines, including the European Space Agency, Iranian Space Agency and Australian National University, which have co-developed a more advanced type described as a double layer thruster. However, this form of plasma engine is only one of many types.

Engine types

Helicon Double Layer Thruster

A Helicon Double Layer Thruster uses radio waves to create a plasma and a magnetic nozzle to focus and accelerate the plasma away from the rocket engine.

Hall effect thrusters

Magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters

Magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters (MPD) uses the Lorentz force (a force resulting from the interaction between a magnetic field and an electric current) to generate thrust - The electric charge flowing through the plasma in the presence of a magnetic field causing the plasma to accelerate due to the generated magnetic force.

Electrodeless Plasma Thrusters

Electrodeless plasma thruster use the ponderomotive force which acts on any plasma or charged particle when in the influence of a strong electromagnetic energy gradient to accelerate the plasma.


VASIMR, or Variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket, works by using radio waves to ionize a propellant into a plasma and then a magnetic field to accelerate the plasma out of the back of the rocket engine to generate thrust. The VASIMIR is currently being developed by the private company Ad Astra Rocket, headquartered in Houston, TX. Some of the components and "Plasma Shoots" experiments are tested in a laboratory settled in Liberia, Costa Rica. This project is led by former NASA astronaut Dr. Franklin Chang-Díaz (CRC-USA). Recently the Costa Rican Aerospace Alliance announced the cooperation to this project by developing an exterior support device for the VASIMIR to be fitted in the exterior of the ISS (International Space Station), as part of the plan to test the VASIMIR in space, this test phase is expected to be conducted by the end of this decade.

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