Space Physics seniors Rachael Wagner and Colin Wells are building and testing an arcjet electric thruster for their senior project, with the aid of two sophomores. They picked this project because it met the criteria for time and resources suitable for a senior project in the exotic propulsion track. Since last semester, Wagner and Wells have obtained all the major parts and are starting construction. The last two weeks of the semester will be used for assembly and initial testing.

Wagner said the most significant aspect was that they were able to put it together from the beginning. “We were really happy we had the resources to do this project. We were able to get everything we needed,” Wagner said. The team was able to test their knowledge and gain learning experiences by combining theory with hands-on construction.

Wagner commented it was interesting they were able to combine space physics theory with engineering, since none on the team had engineering knowledge until this project. “It’s cool to see our project come from the physics theory, but learn how to engineer as well.” Wagner said.  She talked about the team approaching engineers to learn the necessary knowledge to build the arcjet electric thruster.

“We got to work in the machine lab.  It was really exciting,” Wagner expressed.

After initial tests, the team will adjust their exotic propulsion project to increase efficiency. Depending on the results, Wells and Wagner will need to change the nozzle metal, the strain gauge for the test stand, and the propellant. This may ensure more accurate readings and provide better thrust.

The project is expected to be passed off to the two sophomores on the team, but it is unsure if the arcjet electric thruster will be a legacy project. Wagner and Wells were able to meet the standards of the senior project though, so they will proudly graduate with the objectives of their portion met.


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