Very high temperature-resistant and flexible electromagnetic field configuration circuits for spacecraft Hall effect thruster


PPS Flex testing at the ESA test facilities

Technology abstract

PPS Flex is a Hall effect thruster developed by Toulouse University, France. Used for orbital manoeuvres in space, plasma thrusters such as PPS Flex involve very high temperatures and flexible electromagnetic field configuration. Therefore, temperature resistant electromagnetic circuits were devised. This equipment could be used in aeronautics applications, where placing electromagnetic circuits very close to the engines would result in gains in terms of weight and simplicity.

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- Benoit Rivollet -

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Technology Description

PPS Flex is a Hall thruster: Xenon is injected through a cavity and is ionized by a strong electromagnetic field. It is therefore accelerated, which creates thrust on the device. The electromagnetic field is generated by induction coils. Because of the high temperature of the ionised gas (plasma), the induction coils of the device can reach 500°C. LAPLACE (Laboratory for Plasma and Energy Conversion) therefore developed very high temperature-resistant electromagnetic circuits, and has gained extensive knowledge in the characterisation of magnetic materials at high temperatures.
In the aeronautics sector, placing electromagnetic circuits closer to the engines results in gains in terms of weight and simplicity, thus improving the fuel consumption of aircrafts.
Furthermore, the main way to further improve the efficiency of turbomachines is currently to increase their operating temperature, which are limited by the resistance of materials. LAPLACE could therefore provide know-how in this domain to turbomachine designers.

Innovations & Advantages

PPS Flex is a Hall thrusters with flexible electromagnetic field configuration:

  • compared to conventional designs, the bulk of the magnetized discharge is not limited by solid boundaries.
  • this allows less plasma-wall interaction and therefore lower thrust losses, less wear and a higher longevity.
  • therefore, the main goal of this wall-less thruster is to limit the interaction between plasma and surfaces: the principle is to shift the ionization and acceleration regions outside the cavity. This is achieved by moving the cathode towards the channel exit (see figure 1)

Further Information

Video describing the technology (in French):

Current and Potential Domains of Application

The current domain of application of PPS Flex is space propulsion for long missions. The electromagnetic circuits developed for this application could be transferred in aeronautics. For example, interest could arise for very high temperature resistant solenoid valves in order to gain weight and simplicity in the engine zone.