USA flag logo/image

An Official Website of the United States Government

A New Electric Propulsion Concept Based on Pseudospark Discharges

Award Information

Department of Defense
Air Force
Award ID:
Program Year/Program:
2002 / STTR
Agency Tracking Number:
Solicitation Year:
Solicitation Topic Code:
Solicitation Number:
Small Business Information
555 Sparkman Drive, Executive Plaza, Suite 1622 Huntsville, AL 35816
View profile »
Woman-Owned: Yes
Minority-Owned: Yes
HUBZone-Owned: No
Phase 1
Fiscal Year: 2002
Title: A New Electric Propulsion Concept Based on Pseudospark Discharges
Agency / Branch: DOD / USAF
Contract: F49620-02-C-0065
Award Amount: $99,172.00


It is proposed to develop a space propulsion concept based on the physics of pseudospark discharges. The device will be based on a multi-gap pseudospark device with a closed anode. The pseudospark is characterized by a transient phase, where high-intensityare created, and a "super-dense" glow discharge phase when the steady state is achieved. This phase produces very high plasma densities with minimal electrode erosion. In pulsed operation, a transient charged plasma can be used to generate a high densityion beam, which can then be accelerated to higher velocities. The physics of the concept will be investigated in detail to evaluate its efficiency for space propulsion, and scaling properties for micro-propulsion applications. The concept does not use anapplied magnetic field and can therefore be very compact; micro-scale effects at the electrode surface may also facilitate the design of micro-thrusters for nano-satellites. Two operational modes will be considered; a steady-state operation, using thehigh-density plasma of the super-dense glow phase, and a pulsed operation, using the transient formation of a space-charged plasma for ion beam generation. The scaling properties will be determined through numerical simulations, and preliminary designs ofa candidate propulsion system and an experiment will be accomplished. The proposed pseudospark-based propulsion system can be designed on various scales or assembled as an array of micro-devices, if it can be successfully scaled. This extends the range ofapplicability from nano-satellites to conventional satellites, and widens the commercial market for the technology. The commercial applications are therefore primarily aimed at satellite propulsion and station-keeping. Furthermore, the technology can begeneralized to other applications, such as power processing and material fabrication and treatment, for which the pseudospark is currently being developed.

Principal Investigator:

Douglas VanGilder
Project Manager

Business Contact:

Kenneth T. Lyles
Director of Business Operations
Small Business Information at Submission:

Erc, Inc.
555 Sparkman Drive, Executive Plaza, Suite 1622 Huntsville, AL 35816

EIN/Tax ID: 621008247
Number of Employees:
Woman-Owned: No
Minority-Owned: No
HUBZone-Owned: No
Research Institution Information:
University of Southern California
Dept of EE/Electrophysics, PHE 604
Los Angeles, CA 90089
Contact: Gundersen, Martin A
Contact Phone: (213) 740-4396
RI Type: Nonprofit college or university