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Plasma engines have been stuck in the lab for the past decade or so. [: )] And research on them has largely been limited to the idea of propelling satellites once in space.
Berkant Göksel at the Technical University of Berlin and his team now want to fit plasma engines to planes. “We want to develop a system that can operate above an altitude of 30 kilometres where standard jet engines cannot go,” he says. These could even take passengers to the edge of the atmosphere and beyond.
Plasma jet engines tend to be designed to work in a vacuum or the low pressures found high in the atmosphere, where they would need to carry a gas supply. But now Göksel’s team has tested one that can operate on air at a pressure of one atmosphere... “We are the first to produce fast and powerful plasma jets at ground level,” says Göksel. “These jets of plasma can reach speeds of up to 20 kilometres a second.”
The team used a rapid stream of nanosecond-long electric discharges to fire up the propulsion mixture. A similar technique is used in pulse detonation combustion engines, making them more efficient than standard fuel-powered engines.
It’s the first time anyone has applied pulse detonation to plasma thrusters. Jason Cassibry at the University of Alabama in Huntsville is impressed. “It could greatly extend the range of any aircraft and lower the operational cost,” he says.
The biggest limitation, though, is the lack of lightweight batteries. A huge amount of electricity is required to generate and sustain the plasma. “An array of thrusters would require a small electrical power plant, which would be impossible to mount on an aircraft with today’s technology[...]”
Göksel is hoping for a breakthrough in compact fusion reactors to power his system.
The first critical tests for future air-breathing magneto-plasma propulsion systems have been successfully completed. In this regard, it is also the first time that a pinching dense plasma focus discharge could be ignited at one atmosphere and driven in pulse mode using very fast, nanosecond electrostatic excitations to induce self-organized plasma channels for ignition of the propulsive main discharge. Depending on the capacitor voltage (200-600 V) the energy input at one atmosphere varies from 52-320 Joules per pulse corresponding to impulse bits from 1.2-8.0 mNs. Such a new pulsed plasma propulsion system driven with one thousand pulses per second would already have thrust-to-area ratios (50-150 kN/m²) of modern jet engines. An array of thrusters could enable future aircrafts and airships to start from ground and reach altitudes up to 50 km and beyond. The needed high power could be provided by future compact plasma fusion reactors already in development by aerospace companies. The magneto-plasma compressor itself was originally developed by Russian scientists as plasma fusion device and was later miniaturized for supersonic flow control applications.
originally posted by: Baddogma
Coool! Thanks for the updates, TEOT... I've come to depend on you as my own personal tech updater.
Tho the crackpot side of me is pretty darned sure we have better powerplants and engines, it is nice when they let some old tech dribble out to us (the mouth-breathers in the white world).
originally posted by: TEOTWAWKIAIFF
a reply to: rickymouse
Over charging one or the other causes problems. Even for the craft itself. New research has a "deflectorless" ion engine. The deflector adds missing ions back to the exhaust stream to keep the ship at neutral charge.
This was just announced today too.