Electric Propulsion Lab

Faculty Researchers Location Phone Website
Joshua Rovey,
Rodney Burton
6S Talbot Lab 217-300-7092  

The Electric Propulsion Laboratory (EPLab) contains space vacuum simulation facilities for investigating advanced space propulsion and plasmadynamic systems. The laboratory includes three vacuum chambers and associated high throughput vacuum pumps, a long-period pendulum thrust stand, a null-type inverted pendulum thrust stand, numerous plasma plume diagnostics, and high-speed data acquisition systems. The laboratory has a rich research history, including DC and pulsed arcjet electrothermal thrusters, Teflon pulsed plasma thrusters, electrode erosion, solar sails, and high-power electromagnetic propulsion. Recent research activities have included synthesis and testing of new chemical and electric rocket propellants, development of a new small satellite propulsion concept called multi-mode micropropulsion, exploration of electric solid propellant for pulsed plasma thrusters, characterization of gas breakdown characteristics of pulsed inductive plasmas, investigation of nanoparticle manipulation using plasmonic nanostructures, and control of plasma striations in atmospheric pressure plasmas. The EPLab has been fortunate to receive strong steady funding from NASA, AFOSR, AFRL, DoE, and industry, including collaborative programs with CU Aerospace. More details about the laboratory, facilities, and associated personnel and their research can be found at: http://eplab.ae.illinois.edu


Facility and Equipment Description

Belljar Facility

The belljar has an inner diameter of 23.75 in. and an inner length of 27.5 in. The base pressure is 10-7 Torr.

Belljar in lab

EP Test Facility 1

This facility is 1-m-diameter and 1.5-m-long evacuated to a base pressure of 10-6 Torr by a TPU1500 Pfeiffer turbopump. It has a thrust stand based on a long-period pendulum design which uses the Watt straight-line mechanism. The measurable thrust is 40 µN with 2 µN resolution

EP Test Facility #1

EP Test Facility 2

This facility is 1.2-m-diameter and 2.1-m-long evacuated to a base pressure of 10-6 Torr by a PHPK TM1200 cryopump. It has a thrust stand based on the NASA GRC null-type inverted pendulum design. 

EP Test facility #2

Research Highlights

Pulsed inductive thruster plasmoid formation

Research into pulsed inductive plasma has elucidated decades old anomalous behavior surrounding the gas breakdown/plasma formation process. Results have shown that strong magnetic fields prevent electrons from gaining energy within the pulsed electric field. Thereby delaying the plasma formation until the magnetic field is eliminated.

Pulsed Inductive Thruster

Low pressure high-altitude dielectric barrier plasma

Research into atmospheric pressure dielectric discharge barrier plasma has explained the decreased efficiency and thrust provided by these devices at low pressure, high-altitude conditions. Results show at lower pressure and longer mean-free-path, plasma is created farther from the accelerating electric field resulting in a weaker body force and less plasma acceleration.

Low pressure high-altittude dielectric barrier plasma

Electric solid propellant pulsed plasma thruster

Research into electric solid propellant as a new propellant for pulsed plasma thrusters has characterized ablation mass loss. Results have for the first time shown that electric solid propellant has an ablation mass loss similar to the traditional Teflon propellant.

Electric solid propellant pulsed plasma thruster

Control of plasma striations

Research into atmospheric pressure plasma filaments has demonstrated control of an individual filament within an array of filaments. Results have shown that an individual filament can be turned on and off, and its intensity controlled. This paves the way for continuously adjustable patterns of plasma filaments that enable novel interactions with electromagnetic waves.

Control of plasma striations