Plasma propulsion options for multiple terrestrial planet finder architectures

Kurt A. Polzin, Edgar Y. Choueiri, Pini Gurfil, N. Jeremy Kasdin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


A systems-level trade study is presented comparing the propulsion requirements and associated final masses for different architectural implementations of the Terrestrial Planet Finder mission. The study focuses on the millinewton-level propulsion chores associated with rotating and repointing an array. Three interferometer configurations, free flying, monolithic, and tethered, lead to estimates of thrust and power requirements and spacecraft masses associated with the different plasma propulsion systems required to perform maneuvers throughout a mission. The parametric study includes the following plasma propulsion options: Hall thruster, field emission electric propulsion, ablative pulsed plasma thruster, ablative Z-pinch pulsed plasma thruster, and gas-fed pulsed plasma thruster. Not all of the thrusters considered can perform the necessary propulsive chores for each architecture, but for the most promising thruster and architecture combinations, it is found that the initial mass for a system falls between 3050 and 4060 kg. The tether, in general, possesses the lowest initial mass of the three architectures followed by the free flyer and the monolith. Finally, the thrust-to-power ratio, maximum deliverable thrust or impulse bit, and capability of a propulsion system to process enough power to produce a required thrust level are shown to be more important factors than the specific impulse in determining the proper thruster choice for moderate to high thrust maneuvers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)347-356
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Spacecraft and Rockets
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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