Pulsed Plasma Thruster

Pulsed plasma thrusters are the first electric propulsion (EP) technology to fly in space and have been studied and developed since the Russian launch of the Zond-2 satellite in 1964. Replacing the standard momentum wheels and torque rods with a PPT system to perform attitude control maneuvers reduced the ACS (Attitude Control System( mass by 50 to 75% with no increase in required power over comparable wheel-based systems. PPTs accelerate small quantities of ablated fluorocarbon propellant such as PTFE, more commonly known as Teflon, to generate very small impulse bits from (100 to 1000 µNs) at a high specific impulse  (-1000s).

In collaboration with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, under the tutelage of Dr. Daniel White, and Dr. Pavlos Mikellides, the Sun Devil Satellite Laboratory (SDSL) Pulsed Plasma Thruster (PPT) team is currently performing research and development of novel PPT designs as a ultra-compact, efficient and low-power propulsion solution for CubeSat platforms. We have successfully tested a coaxial, benchtop PPT (that was fired without the use of a spark plug, a major life limiting factor) for use in testing our electrical systems, and to explore possible increases in efficiency by utilizing nontraditional designs and the removal of life limiting factors.

The SDSL CubeSat Pulsed Plasma Thruster Module

The Sun Devil Satellite Laboratory Pulsed Plasma Thruster (PPT) team is currently performing research and development of a multi-axis PPT module with a compact form factor of 0.9U and a maximum mass of ~1 kg, thereby minimizing system volume and mass to enable larger science payloads. The PPT has eight thrusters integrated into a single thruster module to allow for multi-axis control, a key feature not currently available in any commercial, off-the shelf PPT.

This project is an all-inclusive, multidisciplinary research project that integrates students majoring in physics, electrical engineering, aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering and more!

Learn more in our first paper, published in AIAA: Pulsed-Plasma-Thruster-for-Multi-Axis-CubeSat-Attitude-Control-Applications

A 3U CubeSat with ASU’s PPT can enable fine-pointing in deep space missions to enticing targets such as Europa.


• Ultra- compact (0.9U) design

• Revolutionary 8 thruster system to control pitch, yaw and roll

• Specific Impulse ~ 1000s

• Minimum Impulse Bit: ~ 100 μNs

• Low system mass (~ 1 kg)

• Low Power (<5 W)

• High-vacuum (~10-8 Torr) compatible

• Solid, non-toxic Teflon propellant

• Current TRL: 3/4

This project also incorporates a biweekly lesson plan for learning on the job! Lessons are taught on:

  2. Machining & Fabrication
  3. Electrical circuit design


Read more about our project in our recent interview with ASU’s The State Press