Magnetically nozzled MPD thrusters will also provide cost-effective in-space propulsion for orbit raising of commercial spacecraft such as GEO communications satellites and orbit transfer of large DoD payloads. In terrestrial applications, MPD thruster derived technology has applications in environmentally-friendly materials processing, for uses such as selective material ablation, ion implantation, and surface tempering. Our PI has previously collaborated in the successful development of a magnetically nozzled plasma accelerator for materials processing that is now in commercial use by the 3M company. Additionally, magnetically-nozzled MPD technology has applications in pulsed-power systems as well as fusion power research.
Manned exploration of the asteroids, Mars, and the outer planets will require fast transport of personnel and supplies to these destinations. Due to their high specific impulses and ability to process hundreds or thousands of kilowatts of power in a small device, MPD thrusters can provide shorter trip times and higher payload fractions than currently available propulsion technologies. However, significant improvements in MPD thruster efficiency and lifetime are required to achieve this potential. The anode propellant injection and electrode geometry optimization innovations to be developed in the proposed effort have strong potential to achieve the necessary efficiency and lifetime improvements, and thus may enable MPD thruster technologies to dramatically reduce trip times and costs for manned and robotic Exploration missions.