Advanced space propulsion based on the flow-stabilized Z-pinch fusion concept

U. Shumlak, R. C. Lilly, C. S. Adams, R. P. Golingo, S. L. Jackson, S. D. Knecht, B. A. Nelson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

9 Scopus citations


A fusion space thruster based on the flow-stabilized Z-pinch may be possible in the near-term and provide many advantages over other fusion-based thruster concepts. The Z-pinch equilibrium is classically unstable to gross disruption modes according to theoretical, numerical, and experimental evidence. However, a new stabilization mechanism has been discovered that can stabilize these modes with plasma flow. The stabilizing mechanism was developed for a Z-pinch plasma equilibrium which has an axial velocity profile that is linear in radius. When the velocity shear exceeds a threshold, the plasma modes are stabilized. The magnitude of the peak velocity is dependent on the mode wavelength but is sub-Alfvénic for the wavelengths of experimental interest, vmax > 0.1VAka where VA is the Alfvén speed, k is the axial wave vector, and a is the characteristic pinch radius. The flow Z-pinch experiment ZaP has been built at the University of Washington to experimentally verify the sheared flow stabilizing mechanism. The experiment has achieved plasma flow velocities of 105 m/s and stability for almost 2000 growth times. For more information the reader is encouraged to visit The extension of the flow Z-pinch to a space thruster is straight forward. The plasma in a flow Z-pinch would already be moving axially, fusing, and releasing a tremendous amount of nuclear energy. The end of the Z-pinch can be left open to allow the escape of the energetic plasma. Specific impulses in the range of 106 s and thrust levels of 105N are possible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCollection of Technical Papers - AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE 42nd Joint Propulsion Conference
Number of pages14
StatePublished - 2006
EventAIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE 42nd Joint Propulsion Conference - Sacramento, CA, United States
Duration: Jul 9 2006Jul 12 2006

Publication series

NameCollection of Technical Papers - AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE 42nd Joint Propulsion Conference


OtherAIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE 42nd Joint Propulsion Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySacramento, CA

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Space and Planetary Science
  • General Energy
  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering


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