First Breakthrough for Future Air-Breathing Magneto-Plasma Propulsion Systems

By Berkant Göksel - IB Göksel Electrofluidsystems, Managing Director

Issue 78

IB Göksel Electrofluidsystems announced the first breakthrough for future air-breathing magneto-plasma propulsion systems with the release of a new Star Wars movie in December 2015 and presented a first prototype at the ILA Berlin Air Show in June 2016. The first scientific paper was published in the Journal of Physics in April 2017. New results will be presented at the ILA Berlin Air Show in April 2018. It is envisioned that air-breathing plasma propulsion systems will enable future ‘stratollite’ airships and aircrafts to easily reach altitudes from the ground to 50 km and even beyond.   

The working principle of the new pulsed plasma engine is based on Lorentz forcing through a set of arc discharges with self-induced magnetic fields. Arc discharges can have very high currents which again generate high magnetic fields. Now in our case, there are arc discharges running from at least six outer bar anodes to a center cathode. The right-hand rule for current-carrying wires might be known to most readers from our high-school physics class:

The thumb is the arc current from each of the bar anodes to the center cathode. The trigger finger is the induced tangential magnetic field. The middle finger is the direction of the Lorentz force which is pushing the ionized air towards a pinching focus point where all six force vectors meet and compress the ionized air plasma to pressures up to 100 bar and beyond. After the compression zone, there is an expansion to very high speeds. At ground level conditions, the speed is in the range of 3,300 ft/s (1,000 m/s). At higher altitudes, the plasma exhaust speed can reach values of 5-20 km/s. So, the final effect is very similar to what we have in a rocket (Laval) nozzle that we deal in principle with a kind of an electromagnetic pulse detonation rocket engine analogue. 

The total current is very high and can reach values up to several tens of Kiloamperes, whereby the self-induced tangential magnetic fields are as strong as naturally generated by the best rare-earth neodymium magnets with 1.6-1.8 Tesla. With the innovative ignition method based on nanosecond fast high voltage pulse excitations to induce multiple self-organized plasma channels, it is now possible to drive the plasma engine from ground level up to 50 km and beyond. From this point it is a first breakthrough for high-thrust plasma engines which can be often seen in science-fiction movies. 

Now imagine a hybrid subsonic flying wing with two types of engines: 1. Two electric aircraft engines with each 50 kilograms weight and 260 kilowatts of power as recently developed by Siemens, and 2. A multi-array of 100 trailing edge distributed air-breathing magneto-plasma flux compression thrusters with combined jet focusing nozzles and a total thrust of 112.4 lbf (500N) to be developed by IB Göksel Electrofluidsystems.

The two classical electric motors from Siemens with plasma noise and separation flow controlled propellers from IB Göksel Electrofluidsystems would be used to start and climb up to 50,000 ft (15.2 km). The second more futuristic engine would be used for a short but fast climb operation from 50,000 ft (15.2 km) to stratospheric altitudes from 85,000 ft (25.9 km) to even 100,000 ft (30.5 km) reaching speeds of 500 mph (800 km/h). The “shining” Plasma Stingray named “Sirius” would bring six space tourists to the edge of near space in less than an hour, switch-off the plasma pulse detonation engine in near space and come back as a glider or lifting body aerospace shuttle. Today, the most popular subsonic aircrafts which could fly at 80,000-85,000 ft are the Lockheed U-2 and Grob Strato-2C. In August 2001, the solar-powered Helios reached an official world record altitude of 96,863 ft (29.5 km) during a maximum-altitude flight for a non-rocket powered aircraft.

The Sirius could take off from any small airfield and would be driven by a compact aircraft fuel cell system with a power density of less than 2.2 lb/kW (1kg/kW) and 660 kW. Wing mounted flexible solar cells based on optical rectenna technology would provide additional 80-100 kW or at least 40 kW power using state-of-the-art solar cells with 30% efficiency.

Future supersonic and hypersonic Sirius systems with 50-100 MW plasma engines would use compact plasmas fusion reactors which will be the most environmentally friendly power units in the future and are already in development by leading aerospace companies. In principle, it is also possible to imagine future single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) vehicles or aerospace planes as the magneto-plasma thrusters can be fed by gases like Argon and thus would also operate in deep space. For re-entry heat protection and high speed flight modes a second multi-array of thrusters distributed along the leading edge or nose section could work as counterflow magneto-plasma jet actuators comparable to NASA’s LPM system in the Paradoxal Concept but without the need of compressed bleed air from mechanical engines. Let’s imagine a future with plasma fusion powered plasma aircrafts and airships.

As Einstein told: 

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”