Mission to Mars: Wall-less Hall Thruster May be the Future of Deep Space Travel

First Posted: Oct 28, 2015 07:56 AM EDT

Hall thrusters are advanced electric rocket engines that are mostly used for station-keeping and altitude control of geosynchronous communication satellites and space probes. Now, though, researchers are taking a closer look at these engines for deep space missions.

Hall thrusters use about 100 million times less propellant or fuels than conventional chemical rockets. This, in particular, makes the Hall thruster an attractive candidate for exploring Mars, asteroids, and the edge of the solar system. By saving fuel, the thruster could leave room for spacecraft and send a large amount of carbon in support of space missions. The current lifespan of Hall thrusters, though, is too short for more space explorations.

Now, researchers are looking to prolong the lives of these Hall thrusters. Scientists have experimentally optimized the operation of a novel, wall-less thruster prototype. The preliminary results were good, and the researchers believe that they may pave the way for a high-efficiency wall-less Hall thruster suitable for deep space missions-possibly even the one to send humans to Mars.

"The major drawback of Hall thrusters is that the discharge channel wall materials largely determine the discharge properties, and consequently, the performance level and the operational time," said Julien Vaudolon, one of the researchers, in a news release.

In this case, though, the researchers have based a small-scale, wall-less thruster prototype based on a classical Hall thruster. At first, the researchers simply moved the anode to the channel exhaust plane. But in order to optimize the wall-less prototype, the researchers rotated the magnetic barrier by 90 degrees, so that it injected the magnetic field lines parallel with the axial direction.

The new research on Hall thrusters could eventually pave the way to deep space travel. In fact, it could eventually power the journey to Mars.

The findings are published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

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