Dr Andrea Lucca Fabris

Senior Lecturer in Electric Propulsion
+44 (0)1483 686444
27 BA 01



Research interests


M. Tisaev, B. Karadag, A. Lucca Fabris (2023)Influence of applied magnetic field in an air-breathing microwave plasma cathode, In: Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics56(46)465203 IOP Publishing

Abstract The air-breathing electric propulsion (ABEP) concept refers to a spacecraft in very-low Earth orbit (VLEO) ingesting upper atmospheric air as propellant for an electric thruster. This compensates atmospheric drag and allows the spacecraft to maintain its orbital altitude, removing the need for on-board propellant storage and allowing an extended mission duration which is not limited by propellant exhaustion. There is a need for development of a robust, high current density and long life cathode (or neutralizer) for air-breathing electrostatic thrusters as conventional thermionic hollow cathodes are susceptible to oxygen poisoning. An Air-breathing Microwave Plasma CAThode (AMPCAT) is proposed to overcome this issue through the use of a microwave plasma discharge, producing an extracted current in the order of 1 A with 0.1 mg s-1 of air. In this paper, the effect of varying magnetic-field strength and topology is investigated by using an electromagnet coil, which reveals a significantly different behaviour for air compared to xenon. The extracted current with xenon increases by 3.9 times from the zero-field value up to a peak around 150 mT magnetic-field strength at the antenna, whereas an applied field does not increase the extracted current with air at nominal conditions. A non-zero magnetic-field with air is however beneficial for current extraction at reduced neutral densities. A distinct increase in extracted current is identified at low bias voltages with air for a field strength of around 50 mT at the internal microwave antenna, consistent across varying field topologies. The effect of a lowered magnetic-field strength in the orifice region is investigated through the use of a secondary coil, resulting in an extracted current increase of 25 % for a relaxation from 6 mT to 1 mT, and demonstrating the beneficial impact of a locally reduced field strength on electron extraction.

Batikan Koroglu, Marco Mehl, Michael R. Armstrong, Jonathan C. Crowhurst, David G. Weisz, Joseph M. Zaug, Zurong Dai, Harry B. Radousky, Alex Chernov, Erick Ramon, Elissaios Stavrou, Kim Knight, Andrea L. Fabris, Mark A. Cappelli, Timothy P. Rose (2017)Plasma flow reactor for steady state monitoring of physical and chemical processes at high temperatures, In: Review of Scientific Instruments88(9)pp. 093506-1 AIP Publishing

We present the development of a steady state plasma flow reactor to investigate gas phase physical and chemical processes that occur at high temperature (1000 < T < 5000 K) and atmospheric pressure. The reactor consists of a glass tube that is attached to an inductively coupled argon plasma generator via an adaptor (ring flow injector). We have modeled the system using computational fluid dynamics simulations that are bounded by measured temperatures. In situ line-of-sight optical emission and absorption spectroscopy have been used to determine the structures and concentrations of molecules formed during rapid cooling of reactants after they pass through the plasma. Emission spectroscopy also enables us to determine the temperatures at which these dynamic processes occur. A sample collection probe inserted from the open end of the reactor is used to collect condensed materials and analyze them ex situ using electron microscopy. The preliminary results of two separate investigations involving the condensation of metal oxides and chemical kinetics of high-temperature gas reactions are discussed.

Antonio Gurciullo, Andrea Lucca Fabris, Mark A Cappelli (2019)Ion plume investigation of a Hall Effect Thruster operating with Xe/N₂ and Xe/air mixtures, In: Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics IOP Publishing

The ion plume of a 72mm diameter Hall Effect Thruster operated on mixtures of xenon/nitrogen and xenon/air is investigated by means of a Wien filter (or E x B probe). The dependence of the velocities of the plume ions (Xe⁺, Xe²⁺, Xe³⁺, O₂⁺, O⁺, N₂⁺ and N⁺) on the operating parameters of the thruster (anode voltage, anode power, mass flow rate and magnetic field) is explored. The most probable ion acceleration voltages, the ion current and density fractions of the multi-propellant, multi-species ion beam, are computed from the Wien filter spectra through a dedicated post-processing analysis. The knowledge of these properties is fundamental for understanding the contribution of each ion species to the propulsive performance metrics of the thruster when operated on these molecular gas mixtures.

C V Young, Andrea Lucca Fabris, N A MacDonald-Tenenbaum, W A Hargus, M A Cappelli (2018)Time-resolved laser-induced fluorescence diagnostics for electric propulsion and their application to breathing mode dynamics, In: Plasma Sources Science and Technology27(9)094004 Institute of Physics

Several techniques have been developed recently for performing time-resolved laser-induced fluorescence (LIF) measurements in oscillating plasmas. One of the primary applications is characterizing plasma fluctuations in devices like Hall thrusters used for space propulsion. Optical measurements such as LIF are nonintrusive and can resolve properties like ion velocity distribution functions with high resolution in velocity and physical space. The goals of this paper are twofold. First, the various methods proposed by the community for introducing time resolution into the standard LIF measurement of electric propulsion devices are reviewed and compared in detail. Second, one of the methods, the sample-hold technique, is enhanced by parallelizing the measurement hardware into several signal processing channels that vastly increases the data acquisition rate. The new system is applied to study the dynamics of ionization and ion acceleration in a commercial BHT-600 Hall thruster undergoing unforced breathing mode oscillations in the 44–49 kHz range. A very detailed experimental picture of the common breathing mode ionization instability emerges, in close agreement with established theory and numerical simulations.

Antonio Gurciullo, Andrea Lucca Fabris, Aaron Knoll (2017)Direct Current Plasma Electron Source for Electric Propulsion Applications Using Atomic and Molecular Propellants, In: IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science45(9)pp. 2472-2480 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

The design and performance of a novel direct current (dc) neutralizer for electric propulsion applications are presented. The neutralizer exploits an E × B discharge to enhance ionization via electron-neutral collisions. Tests are performed with helium, argon, xenon, air, and water vapor as working gases. The I-V characteristics and extraction parameters are measured for both atomic and molecular gases. The maximum partial power efficiency is 4.2 mA/W in argon, 2.7 mA/W in air, and 2 mA/W in water vapor. The typical utilization factor is below 1 and the power consumption is less than 120 W. A semiempirical model is derived to predict the performance of dc plasma cathodes using atomic gas. A comparison with existing plasma cathodes and conventional LaB6 cathodes is presented, and design optimizations aimed at improving the performance are proposed.

Antonio Gurciullo, Andrea Lucca Fabris, Thomas Potterton (2020)Numerical study of a hollow cathode neutraliser by means of a zero-dimensional plasma model, In: Acta Astronautica174pp. 219-235 Elsevier Ltd

A zero-dimension plasma model of thermionic hollow cathodes is here derived. The equations of conservation of mass, current and power are solved within the insert and orifice regions. The model introduces some elements of novelty compared to prior literature such as the inclusion of the electron current collected on the orifice lateral walls, and ion and electron currents collected on the orifice plate walls in the overall balance equations. Estimation of the power deposited on walls due to electron and ion bombardment in both insert and orifice regions are performed, thus, enabling comparisons among different geometrical configurations and operating regimes. The model results are compared against published experimental data and a thorough investigation of the model response to variation of geometrical and operational condition of a sample cathode are presented. A power budget, which includes power consumption and power deposition, of a sample thermionic cathode is also discussed.

Rhys David Williams, Andrea Lucca Fabris, Aaron Knoll (2020)Insight into the plasma structure of the Quad Confinement Thruster using electron kinetic modelling, In: Acta Astronautica173pp. 111-118 Elsevier Ltd

The behaviour of plasma within the discharge channel of the Quad Confinement Thruster is studied on the basis of electron kinetics. Here we propose that E × B drift of electrons drives the formation of unusual quadrant dependent light emitting structures observed experimentally in the discharge channel of the Quad Confinement Thruster. This assertion is made on the basis of a theory-based analysis and a computational model of the Quad Confinement Thruster. A particle orbit model of electron motion under the influence of applied electric and magnetic fields was used to assess electron transport. Structures strongly resembling that of the observed visible emission regions were found in the electron density distribution within the channel. While the motion of electrons cannot be decoupled from the motion of ions, as in this simple electron kinetic approximation, the results of this analysis strongly indicate the physical mechanism governing the formation of the non-uniform density distributions within the Quad Confinement Thruster channel.

C. V. Young, A. Lucca Fabris, N. A. MacDonald-Tenenbaum, W. A. Hargus, M. A. Cappelli (2021)Time-synchronized laser-induced fluorescence in the near-field of a 600 Watt Hall thruster, In: Journal of Applied Physics130(18)183305 American Institute of Physics

We report on the results of an experimental campaign to measure time-varying velocity distributions in the near-field of a low power Hall thruster. We employ a sample-hold technique, enhanced by parallelizing the measurement hardware into several signal processing channels that vastly increases the data acquisition rate. The measurements are applied to study flow field dynamics in a commercial BHT-600 Hall thruster undergoing unforced breathing mode oscillations in the 44–49 kHz range. A very detailed experimental picture of the near-field emerges from these studies. The results indicate that velocity fluctuations lessen further downstream of the exit plane. Along the thruster axis where there is a general appearance of a central jet, there is evidence of a low velocity ion population in between the periodic bursts of high velocity ions, indicative of local ionization of neutrals outside of the thruster. One possible source of this residual ionization may be background chamber gas, which is not unexpected with the limited pumping capacity of ground test facilities.

Andrea Lucca Fabris, Christopher V Young, Aaron Knoll, Emmanuelle K Rosati Azevedo, Mark A Cappelli (2022)Evidence of a free-space ion acceleration layer in the plume of a quad confinement plasma source, In: Journal of applied physics131(1)

The quad confinement plasma source is a novel plasma device developed for space propulsion applications, whose core is an 𝐸×𝐵 discharge with open electron drift. The magnetic field is produced by independently powered electromagnets able to generate different magnetic field topologies with the ultimate aim of manipulating the ion flow field for achieving thrust vectoring. In this work, we map the ion velocity in the plasma ejected from the quad confinement thruster with different magnetic configurations using non-intrusive laser-induced fluorescence diagnostics. Measurements show a steep ion acceleration layer located 8 cm downstream the exit plane of the discharge channel, detached from any physical boundary of the plasma source. In this location, the ion velocity increases from 3 to 10 km/s within a 1 cm axial region. The ion acceleration profile has been characterized under multiple testing conditions in order to identify the influence of the magnetic field intensity and topology on this peculiar ion acceleration layer.

M. Tisaev, E. Ferrato, V. Giannetti, C. Paissoni, N. Baresi, A. Lucca Fabris, T. Andreussi (2022)Air-breathing electric propulsion: Flight envelope identification and development of control for long-term orbital stability, In: Acta Astronautica191pp. 374-393

Air-breathing electric propulsion (ABEP) enables long duration missions at very low orbital altitudes through the use of drag compensation. A system-level spacecraft model is developed, using the interaction between thruster, intake and solar arrays, and coupled to a calculation of the drag. A quadratic solution is found for specific impulse and evaluated to identify the thruster performance required for drag-compensation at varying altitudes. An upper altitude limit around 190 km is based on a minimum thruster propellant density, resulting in required thruster performance values of 𝐼𝑠𝑝 > 3000 s and 𝑇 ∕ 𝑃 > 8 mN/kW for a realistic ABEP spacecraft. The orbit of an air-breathing spacecraft is propagated with time, which highlights the prescribed orbit eccentricity due to non-spherical gravity and therefore an increased variability in the atmospheric conditions. A thruster control law is introduced which avoids a divergent altitude behaviour by preventing thruster firings around the orbit periapsis, as well as adding robustness against atmospheric changes due to season and solar activity. Through the use of an initial frozen orbit, thruster control and an augmented 𝑇 ∕ 𝑃 , a stable long-term profile is demonstrated based on the performance data of a gridded-ion thruster tested with atmospheric propellants. An initial mean semi-major axis altitude of 200 km relative to the equatorial Earth radius, a spacecraft mass of 200 kg, 𝐼𝑠𝑝 = 5455 s and 𝑇 ∕ 𝑃 = 23 mN/kW, results in an altitude range of around 10 km at altitudes of 160–183 km during a period of medium to high solar activity.

Antonio Gurciullo, Andrea Lucca Fabris, Aaron Knoll (2017)Alternative Neutralization Technologies Enabling the Use of Exotic Propellants in Electric Propulsion, In: Proceedings of the 35th International Electric Propulsion Conference Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA IEPC CONFERENCE

In this paper we present the design and test campaign results of two plasma cathodes for electric propulsion applications. One cathode is based on a Hall-type discharge operated in DC. Three magnetic topologies have been tested in order to govern the discharge and the electron extraction with this neutralizer. The second cathode exploits a planar magnetron discharge operated in DC. Preliminary results of extraction tests involving atomic and molecular gases are presented. It is shown that the presence of open-loop Hall currents and null magnetic regions created by four arc magnets whose axial polarity is alternated may increase extraction performance of the Hall-type neutralizer. It is also shown that the extraction characteristics of the planar magnetron neutralizer are qualitatively similar to those of the Hall-type neutralizer.

Yang Gao, Roman Kruzelecky, Piotr Murzionak, Jonathan Lavoie, Ian Sinclair, Gregory Schinn, Craig Underwood, Chris Bridges, Roberto Armellin, Andrea Lucca Fabris, Edward Cloutis, Johan Leijtens, Roger Walker, Johan Vennekens (2020)Lunar “Volatile and Mineralogy Mapping Orbiter (VMMO)” Mission, In: Proceedings of the 70th International Astronautical Conference (IAC 2019) International Astronautical Federation (IAF)

Human spaceflight to/on/from the Moon will benefit from exploitation of various in-situ resources such as water volatile and mineral. Evidence for water ice in Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) on the Moon is both direct and indirect, and derives from multiple past missions including Lunar Prospector, Chandrayaan-1 and LCROSS. Recent lunar CubeSats missions proposed through the Space Launch Systems (SLS) such as Lunar Flashlight, LunaH-Map and Lunar Ice-Cube, will help improve our understanding of the spatial distribution of water ice in those lunar cold traps. However, the spatial resolution of the observations from these SLS missions is on the order of one to many kilometres. In other words, they can miss smaller (sub-km) surficial deposits or near-surface deposits of water ice. Given that future lunar landers or rovers destined for PSRs will likely have limited mobility (but improved landing precision), there is a need to improve the spatial accuracy of maps of water ice in PSRs. The VMMO (Volatiles and Mineralogy Mapping Orbiter) is a semiautonomous, low-cost 12U lunar Cubesat being developed by a multi-national team funded through European Space Agency (ESA) for mapping lunar volatiles and mineralogy at relatively high spatial resolutions. It has a potential launch in 2023 as part of the ESA/SSTL lunar communications pathfinder orbiter mission. This paper presents the work carried out so far on VMMO concept design and development including objectives, profile, operations and spacecraft payload and bus.

L. Shadbolt, A. Garbayo, Andrea Lucca Fabris, Antonio Gurciullo, A. Spindler (2019)AVS Propulsion Diagnostics: a New Diagnostic Device for Non-Invasive Ion Thruster Performance Characterisation, In: Space Propulsion Conference 2018

AVS-led projects are advancing the development of non-invasive diagnostic technology for Electric Propulsion (EP) thrusters. Such technology will gain importance as EP becomes an increasingly prevalent form of spacecraft propulsion. It is expected that future development will enable marketable products by early next decade. As such, the Beam Induced Fluorescence method has been assessed for its applicability to non-invasive diagnostics for EP. The concept was proved feasible by the ‘BIFEP’ project (a joint collaboration with Surrey Space Centre and support of the UK Space Agency). A further development called ‘ORBITA’ in collaboration with ESA will provide valuable datasets of performance parameters during operation of high power EP systems in-orbit and on-board the spacecraft.

D. Staab, A. Frey, A. Garbayo, L. Shadbolt, Andrea Lucca Fabris, Antonio Gurciullo, Pascaline Grondein, Rachel Moloney, D. Faircloth, S. Lawrie (2019)AQUAJET: an Electrodeless ECR Water Thruster, In: Space Propulsion Conference Proceedings 2018

We present the AQUAJET propulsion system, a cathodeless, ambipolar thruster test bed operating on multiple propellants including water. It is based on Electron Cyclotron Resonance (ECR) at 2.45 GHz using a simple permanent magnet configuration of the plasma source. We discuss the theoretical background of the technology, our flexible modular design that allows testing of many thruster geometry configurations, and modelling work done in preparation for testing.

J. Liu, Aaron Knoll, Andrea Lucca Fabris, T. Potterton, D. Gibbon, P. Bianco (2019)Numerical investigation of magnetic neutral points in the Halo thruster, In: Space Propulsion Conference Proceedings
Andrea Lucca Fabris, Aaron Knoll, Käthe Dannenmayer, Tony Schönherr, Thomas Potterton, Paolo Bianco (2017)Vacuum Facility Effects on Quad Confinement Thruster Testing, In: Proceedings of the 35th International Electric Propulsion Conference Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA October 8 – 12, 2017 IEPC CONFERENCE

The first flight unit of the 200 W class Quad Confinement Thruster will be demonstrated in orbit on the SSTL NovaSAR spacecraft. Key preparatory activities have involved extensive ground testing in order to identify the operational and performance envelopes of the thruster over a broad range of test conditions with the ultimate aim of accurately predicting the in-space behavior. In particular, experimental campaigns have been carried out at the Surrey Space Centre and ESA Propulsion Laboratory at ESA-ESTEC in the effort to determine vacuum facility effects on the measured parameters through a critical comparison of the results obtained in the different laboratories.

Andrea Lucca Fabris, Tom Wantock, Antonio Gurciullo, Rachel Moloney, A. Knoll, T. Potterton, P. Bianco (2019)Overview of Halo thruster research and development activities, In: Space Propulsion Conference Proceedings 2018

The Halo thruster is a low-power plasma propulsion concept, currently under investigation and development within the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey in collaboration with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, Airbus DS and Imperial College London. The device is based on the electrostatic acceleration of propellant ions produced in a DC-powered magnetized plasma discharge characterized by a closed-loop electron drift sustained by the combination of electric and magnetic fields. Current research and development activities include: (i) experimental testing of different laboratory models to optimize the thruster performance in the 100 – 200 W power range; (ii) detailed plasma measurements to determine the underlying plasma physics; (iii) implementation of a plasma model for hollow cathode design; (iv) design and manufacturing of an optimized Halo thruster Engineering Model, including a tailored hollow cathode. This paper presents an overview of the aforementioned activities.

Andrea Lucca Fabris, Aaron Knoll, Christopher V. Young, Mark A. Cappelli (2017)Ion Acceleration in a Quad Confinement Thruster, In: Proceedings of the 35th International Electric Propulsion Conference Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA IEPC CONFERENCE

We characterize the ion velocity flow field in the plasma ejected from a Quad Confinement Thruster using non-intrusive 2-D laser-induced fluorescence diagnostics. Measurements show a free-space ion acceleration layer located 8 cm downstream of the exit plane, with an observed ion velocity increase from 3 km/s to 10 km/s within a region of 1 cm thickness or less. The ion velocity field is investigated with different magnetic configurations, demonstrating how distorting the magnetic field produces changes in ion velocity magnitude and direction as well as in metastable (probed) ion density.

A Fabris, AK Knoll (2016)An Interlaboratory Comparison of Thrust Measurements for a 200W Quad Confinement Thruster, In: Proceedings of Space Propulsion Conference 2016

We present an inter-laboratory comparison of the performance and plasma plume measurements of the 200W Quad Confinement Thruster (QCT-200) between the Surrey Space Centre (SSC) electric propulsion laboratory and the ESA Propulsion Laboratory (EPL) at ESA-ESTEC. The test campaign involves thrust balance measurements of the QCT-200 device over a range of operating conditions, and plasma plume measurements using Faraday probes. A matching set of test conditions following a common test procedure is conducted in both facilities and the results critically compared.

Additional publications