Revolutionizing Spaceflight: A Study on Electric Propulsion and Air-Breathing MPDs


  • Ian McKinney Etowah High School
  • John Murnan Etowah High School



MPD, Magnetoplasmadynamic, Thruster, Air-Breathing, Electric


Modern liquid-fuel rocket propulsion harbors a number of great limitations. Among those is the weight of fuel, which makes up more than 90% of the mass of the SpaceX Falcon 9 (NASA, 2018). Electric propulsion has been used for decades as an alternative to liquid-fuel rockets due to low propellant requirements and high specific impulse. Although electric thrusters have strictly been used in non-atmospheric conditions, recent innovations attempt to expand its use to airspace. This quasi-experimental study focuses on the creation of an air-breathing magnetoplasmadynamic (MPD) thruster, with attempts being made to maximize the efficiency of the engine. Immense safety concerns prevented testing from occurring after the engine was built. However, the estimated performance of the built MPD is compared to a multitude of existing forms of electric propulsion, from Hall-effect thrusters to electrodynamic tethers. The concluding evidence suggests that air-breathing MPDs are not currently viable, high-power photon thrusters being of greater use in atmospheric conditions. Further research focusing on decreasing atmospheric breakdown voltage and increasing mirror reflectance of photon thrusters is suggested.


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How to Cite

McKinney, I., & Murnan, J. (2021). Revolutionizing Spaceflight: A Study on Electric Propulsion and Air-Breathing MPDs. Journal of Student Research, 10(2).



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