Research Topic

Numerical Simulations of Plasma Thrusters and/or Related Technologies

About this Research Topic

Electric propulsion is becoming in high demand on modern spacecrafts, from very small nano-satellites to large communications orbital platforms. The difficulty of experimentally characterizing the plasma discharge channels and the operative in-space conditions of plasma thrusters, or the impossibility to test their interaction with the spacecraft on the ground, make simulations a real game changer in this advanced technology/research field. In this respect, the rapid growth of high-performance computing and esa-scale flops of modern architecture supercomputers permit us to tackle more and more complex and computationally costly scenarios. With the use of different numerical approaches, typically based on kinetic, hybrid or fluid plasma models, a large number of applications can be covered: thruster physics and performance estimation, plasma thruster plume interaction with the spacecraft, synthetic simulations of plasma diagnostic tools, etc.

The considered numerical model depends strongly on the ultimate study goal. Kinetic simulations are the closest to reality and hence the most computationally demanding, so that they are generally employed to understand the underlying physics of plasma thrusters. Hybrid/fluid models, on the other hand, are based on strong assumptions (phenomenological models from experiments or kinetic simulations) that reduce the computational cost, and, hence, they are used to estimate performance and/or advance quickly in the design of new prototypes.

Moreover, plasma thruster simulations are generally multidisciplinary because, apart from plasma physics, they can involve other disciplines, such as material physics (plasma-wall interaction), atomic quantum physics (elementary ionization/excitation and other collisional processes, especially relevant in applications with new alternative propellants such as N2, O2, air, water, CO2, iodine, etc.), or electronics (simulation of the real power coupling with external circuits, a key component in all thrusters and diagnostics probes).

This Research Topic aims to present simulations related to plasma propulsion in general, but also at improving the confidence in their results, through comparison with analytical solutions (verification), other numerical approaches (benchmarking) or real experiments (validation).

The following topics are of special interest:

- Thrusters simulations: Hall thrusters (HT), gridded ion thrusters (GIT), helicon plasma thrusters (HPT), electron cyclotron resonance thrusters (ECRT), Magneto-plasma dynamic thrusters (MPDT), field-emission electric propulsion (FEEP), pulsed plasma thrusters (PPT), vacuum arc thrusters, and any other innovative thruster types
- Cathode simulation: hollow/thermionic cathodes, microwave cathodes, hot-filament cathodes
- Plasma plumes simulations: expansion in free space and/or in a vacuum chamber, interaction with the spacecraft surfaces, interaction of plumes from clusters of thrusters, magnetic nozzle expansions
- Simulations of diagnostic tools: Langmuir probes, Retarding Potential Analyzers (RPA), ExB probes, Faraday cups, spectroscopic methodology, thrust balances, etc.

Any type of analysis (verification, benchmarking, or validation) of the simulation results is also encouraged and recommended.


Keywords: simulations, plasma, thrusters, diagnostics, cathodes, plumes, S/C interaction


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Electric propulsion is becoming in high demand on modern spacecrafts, from very small nano-satellites to large communications orbital platforms. The difficulty of experimentally characterizing the plasma discharge channels and the operative in-space conditions of plasma thrusters, or the impossibility to test their interaction with the spacecraft on the ground, make simulations a real game changer in this advanced technology/research field. In this respect, the rapid growth of high-performance computing and esa-scale flops of modern architecture supercomputers permit us to tackle more and more complex and computationally costly scenarios. With the use of different numerical approaches, typically based on kinetic, hybrid or fluid plasma models, a large number of applications can be covered: thruster physics and performance estimation, plasma thruster plume interaction with the spacecraft, synthetic simulations of plasma diagnostic tools, etc.

The considered numerical model depends strongly on the ultimate study goal. Kinetic simulations are the closest to reality and hence the most computationally demanding, so that they are generally employed to understand the underlying physics of plasma thrusters. Hybrid/fluid models, on the other hand, are based on strong assumptions (phenomenological models from experiments or kinetic simulations) that reduce the computational cost, and, hence, they are used to estimate performance and/or advance quickly in the design of new prototypes.

Moreover, plasma thruster simulations are generally multidisciplinary because, apart from plasma physics, they can involve other disciplines, such as material physics (plasma-wall interaction), atomic quantum physics (elementary ionization/excitation and other collisional processes, especially relevant in applications with new alternative propellants such as N2, O2, air, water, CO2, iodine, etc.), or electronics (simulation of the real power coupling with external circuits, a key component in all thrusters and diagnostics probes).

This Research Topic aims to present simulations related to plasma propulsion in general, but also at improving the confidence in their results, through comparison with analytical solutions (verification), other numerical approaches (benchmarking) or real experiments (validation).

The following topics are of special interest:

- Thrusters simulations: Hall thrusters (HT), gridded ion thrusters (GIT), helicon plasma thrusters (HPT), electron cyclotron resonance thrusters (ECRT), Magneto-plasma dynamic thrusters (MPDT), field-emission electric propulsion (FEEP), pulsed plasma thrusters (PPT), vacuum arc thrusters, and any other innovative thruster types
- Cathode simulation: hollow/thermionic cathodes, microwave cathodes, hot-filament cathodes
- Plasma plumes simulations: expansion in free space and/or in a vacuum chamber, interaction with the spacecraft surfaces, interaction of plumes from clusters of thrusters, magnetic nozzle expansions
- Simulations of diagnostic tools: Langmuir probes, Retarding Potential Analyzers (RPA), ExB probes, Faraday cups, spectroscopic methodology, thrust balances, etc.

Any type of analysis (verification, benchmarking, or validation) of the simulation results is also encouraged and recommended.


Keywords: simulations, plasma, thrusters, diagnostics, cathodes, plumes, S/C interaction


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

23 May 2021 Abstract
28 November 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

23 May 2021 Abstract
28 November 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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