A Plasma Source for Generation and Inflation of Large Scale Magnetospheres
Magnetospheric plasma propulsion is a novel propulsion scheme that makes use of the ambient energy of the solar wind by coupling to the solar wind through a large-scale ( 10 km) magnetic bubble or mini-magnetosphere. The magnetosphere is produced by the injection of plasma on to the magnetic field of a small (< 1 m) dipole coil tethered to the spacecraft. By intercepting the solar wind, it is possible for a spacecraft to attain unprecedented speeds for minimal energy and mass requirements. The challenge is having a plasma source that can supply the necessary high energy density to rapidly inflate the small dipole field. A much more powerful and efficient method for plasma generation and magnetic inflation has been developed. The source plasma, as well as dipole magnetic field, are simultaneously generated by Hall currents driven by a rotating magnetic dipole field (RMF). The RMF source generates plasmas with plasma beta > 1, so that field expansion is immediate. The RMF assures inflation by driving currents throughout the magnetosphere, and is virtually propellantless as it sweeps in the intercepted solar wind to build and sustain the magnetosphere. Under phase I, a prototype source would be built and tested.
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