Pratik Saripalli

PhD Student

Department of Aerospace Engineering
2101 Glenn L. Martin Wind Tunnel
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland 20742
Graduate Research Assistant
Space Power and Propulsion Laboratory
Phone: (301) 405-8562 | E-mail: pratik.saripalli (at)

Research Interests

Electric propulsion, decomposing nitrous oxide thruster development

Dissertation Topic

Development and Test of a Decomposing Nitrous Oxide Thruster


There have been numerous experiments focusing on the use of nitrous oxide as a propellant because of its exothermic dissociation properties, its classification as a non-toxic chemical (green monopropellant), its ability to remain stable under normal conditions, and its ability to be stored in space. The dissociation of nitrous oxide results in individual N2 and O molecules, but due to the high reactivity of oxygen molecules, they re-combine to form O2. This releases thermal energy that can be converted into kinetic energy using an expansion nozzle, and initiate self-sustained dissociation. Research conducted in the Space Power and Propulsion Laboratory (SPPL) at the University of Maryland, College Park focuses on the use of nitrous oxide in developing a green propellant station-keeping thruster using a dielectric barrier discharge (DBD). The DBD was used as an alternative to catalysts, thereby removing materialistic limitations due to high temperatures. Currently, focus has been shifted towards minimizing the power input towards the DBD system. The hypothesis is to push nitrous oxide into an excited state as opposed to direct ionization, thereby potentially reducing the power required for dissociation. An electron emission system is currently being designed to generate a mono-energetic electron beam centered around nitrous oxide excited energy levels. The beam will be used to excite nitrous oxide. An emission spectroscopy system involving a fiber optic cable connected to a spectrograph will be used to provide identify various excited species present in the system. Identifying emission lines correlating to nitrous oxide vs. oxygen/nitrogen emission lines will confirm if dissociation is occurring at the certain energy level.