Plasma: The fourth state of matter, an electrically conductive gas. What can this be? Plasma and its technical application, i.e. plasma technology, have become an integral part of everyday life. Plasmas are used in various areas, ranging from the strip light and the plasma-coated pan to plasma medicine and the production of highly integrated circuits. Without plasma technology, there would be no smartphones, no aluminum combustion engines and, in many cases, no clean drinking water.

The Institute of Plasma Technology deals with many aspects of the technical application of plasma in material science and, most notably, in the use of space. Plasmas form the basis for what is referred to as electric drive systems, which have been used for all kinds of space missions for decades. Everyone has seen a chemical drive system (i.e. a launching rocket), and everyone now knows that such a rocket mainly consists of rocket fuel (Ariane 5: gross weight 750 t, payload (LEO) 18t). This fuel requirement for a mission is due to the rate at which the gas is released (the slower it is released, the more fuel is needed).

Electric drive systems allow the exit speed limits to be extended considerably in comparison with chemical drives and, as a result, make it possible to economize on fuel, which is highly beneficial for some missions, in particular long-lasting ones. With electric drives, it is also possible to carry out very accurate controls – it is easier to turn a switch on and off than to close a valve. Such systems, of course, do not come without their problems because in some cases very high temperatures are generated and there is also the possibility of long-term effects that can have a negative impact on the efficiency of such systems.

The institute deals with such effects. By carrying out an accurate analysis of electric drive systems in simulated space environments, these effects are examined and understood, and methods are developed for improving the systems. This is currently taking place primarily on behalf of the ESA. The institute also develops entirely new drives. This, of course, requires a basic understanding of physics and engineering in order to be able to feasibly apply the investigated methods.

An exciting topic. Not to mention cool – in the truest sense of the word, because space is after all cold.




Institute for Plasma Technics
University of the Bundeswehr Munich
Werner-Heisenberg-Weg 39
85577 Neubiberg, Germany

Tel.: +49 89 6004-3785



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