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High Power Electric Propulsion

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Title: High Power Electric Propulsion  
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Subject: Spacecraft propulsion, Ion engines, NASA Advanced Space Transportation Program, Arcjet rocket, Resistojet rocket
Collection: Ion Engines, Spacecraft Propulsion
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High Power Electric Propulsion

HiPEP Beam Extraction Test

High Power Electric Propulsion (HiPEP) is a variation of ion thruster. It was ground-tested in 2003 by NASA and was intended for use on the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter, which was canceled in 2005.


  • Theory 1
  • Specifications 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


The HiPEP thruster differs from earlier ion thrusters because the xenon ions are produced using a combination of microwave and magnetic fields. The ionization is achieved through a process called Electron Cyclotron Resonance (ECR). In ECR, the small number of free electrons present in the neutral gas gyrate around the static magnetic field lines. The injected microwaves' frequency is set to match this gyrofrequency and a resonance is established. Energy is transferred from the right-hand polarized portion of the microwave to the electrons. This energy is then transferred to the bulk gas/plasma via the rare - yet important - collisions between electrons and neutrals. During these collisions, electrons can be knocked free from the neutrals, forming ion-electron pairs. The process is a highly efficient means of creating a plasma in low density gases. Previously the electrons required were provided by a hollow cathode.


The thruster itself is in the 20-50 kW class, with a specific impulse of 6,000-9,000 seconds, and a propellant throughput capability exceeding 100 kg/kW. The goal of the project, as of June 2003, was to achieve a technology readiness level of 4-5 within 2 years.

The pre-prototype HiPEP produced 670 mN of thrust at a power level of 39.3 kW using 7.0 mg/s of fuel giving a specific impulse of 9620 s.[1] Downrated to 24.4 kW, the HiPEP used 5.6 mg/s of fuel giving a specific impulse of 8270 s and 460 mN of thrust.


  1. ^ Page 8 of the September 2004 HiPEP report NASA/TM—2004-213194

External links

  • NASA GRC Media Packet on HiPEP.
  • "The High Power Electric Propulsion (HiPEP) Ion Thruster NASA/TM—2004-213194 AIAA–2004–3812". .
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