Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Sergey N. Makarov, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Robert Labonte, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Alexander E. Emanuel, Advisor




As conventional chemical rockets reach the outer limits of their abilities, significant research is going into alternative thruster technologies, some of which decouple the maximum thrust and efficiency from the propellant's internal chemical energy by supplying energy to the propellant as needed. Of particular interest and potential is the electrically powered thruster, which promises very high specific thrust using relatively inexpensive and stable propellant gasses. Some such thrusters, specifically ion thrusters, have achieved significant popularity for various applications. However, there exist other classes of electrical thrusters which promise even higher levels of efficiency and performance. This thesis will focus on one such thruster type - the magnetoplasmadynamic thruster - which uses an ionized propellant flow and large currents to accelerate the propellant gas by electrical and magnetic force interactions. The necessary background will be presented in order to understand and characterize the operation of such devices, and a theoretical model will be developed in order to estimate the levels of performance which can be expected. Simulations will be performed and analyzed in order to better understand the principles on which these devices are designed. Finally, a thruster package will be designed and built in order to test the performance of the device and accuracy of the model. This will include a high-current power supply, ignition circuit, gas delivery system, and nozzle. Finally, the measured performance of this thruster package will be measured and compared to the theoretical predictions in order to validate the models constructed for this type of thruster.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Electrical & Computer Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





Electric Propulsion, Plasma Thruster, Thruster, MPD, Space vehicles, Propulsion systems, Arc-jet rocket engines, Electric propulsion, Magnetoplasmadynamics