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Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Plasma simulation technology for facilitating more efficient development of electronic propulsion systems

An electric propulsion (EP) device, such as the ion engine known as the main engine of the asteroid explorer "HAYABUSA", obtains thrust by accelerating an ionized propellant by means of electromagnetic force. EP can generate a higher specific impulse (high fuel efficiency) compared with chemical propulsion devices; hence, they are considerably useful in long-term missions over several years. However, the long lifespan of EP requires endurance tests over the long term, which could lead to high development costs. In recent years, there have been expectations of EP being installed not only in deep space explorers but also in geostationary satellites, so as to provide a variety of operational options. Therefore, promoting greater efficiency in the development of EP is an urgent issue for enhancing the international competitiveness of Japan’s aerospace industry. In this study, we are developing simulation tools to analyze plasma flows in EP with the aim of realizing effective EP development by means of computational technologies.

To this end, we are utilizing different numerical models, such as MHD, Hybrid-PIC, and Full-PIC, to simulate plasma flow for each of the following research targets: Ion engine, Hall thruster, MPD thruster, and Neutralizer(electron source), etc.

3D hybrid-PIC simulation of microwave neutralizer(Ion density)

2D Full-PIC simulation of hall thruster
(Left:Electric potential and Ion stream lines, Right:Power balance and heat load)