Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

Space Systems

The Space Systems research group is creating innovative electric propulsion systems to make space travel more feasible, efficient, and economical. These systems have a higher potential exhaust velocity than their chemical counterparts and require less fuel to reach orbit. This group is home to the Ion Space Propulsion Laboratory, where the first bismuth-fueled Hall-Effect thruster was built and demonstrated outside of the Soviet Union. Work continues toward a full-bismuth system.

The group also addresses the immediate challenge of integrating plasma-propulsion systems into existing satellite technology. Researchers are developing methods and devices to improve real-time performance; they are building micro-thrusters using electron emitter arrays with self-regenerating nanotips, solving the problem of nanotip degradation, and allowing an extended system lifetime.

Additionally, researchers are creating methods to identify and mitigate common issues associated with electric propulsion, with projects that investigate refractory powder metallurgy, thruster thermal modeling, magnetic field topology, electron trapping, and sputter erosion. The group intends to expand its research expertise and build a foundation of experimentalists in attitude-control technology, robotics, chemical propulsion, power systems, lightweight structures, and astrodynamics. The group is poised to shape the future of space exploration.

Faculty + Research = Discovery

Our department boasts world-class faculty who have access to numerous innovative research labs and are committed to discovery and learning. This encompasses a range of research areas, experiences, and expertise related to space systems. Learn more about our faculty and their research interests:

Research Projects

Our faculty engage in a number of research projects, many of which are publicly funded. A sample listing of recent research projects focused on agile interconnected microgrids appears below. You can also view a broader list of research projects taking place across the mechanical engineering department.

Past Projects