Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


Kira Abercromby


Since 2000, a relatively new electric thruster concept has been in research, development, and production at Thales Electron Devices in Germany. This High Efficiency Multistage Plasma Thruster, or HEMPT, has promising lifetime capabilities due to its plasma confinement system. However, the permanent magnet system that offers this and other benefits also creates a hollow plume, where ions are accelerated at angles rather than up the thruster centerline, causing a dip in ion current along the centerline. A laboratory model, built at JPL, was run at Cal Poly to characterize this plume shape and implement a shield to restore a conical shape to the plume. A similar solution was used on a different type of thruster, a cylindrical hall thruster, at Princeton with excellent results. A shield was designed to shunt the magnetic field outside the thruster, where the Princeton experiments have identified a radial magnetic field as the cause for this hollow plume. The thruster was run with and without the shield, taking measurements of the ion current in the plume using a linear probe drive. The shield fixed the plume shape, increasing centerline current by 48%, however it also had detrimental effects on thruster performance, causing a decrease in thrust, specific impulse, and cut the total efficiency in half. The shield design was reexamined and a new design has been suggested for future testing of the HEMPT to restore performance while still fixing the plume shape.