John Vitucci

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: jtucc210 (at)


Research Interests

Electric propulsion, specifically helicon thrusters, the application of plasmas to space propulsion, and plasma diagnostics.

Dissertation Topic – YouTube Video

Development and Test of a Superconducting Helicon Thruster


The helicon thruster has been used as a viable electric propulsion system, as exhibited by the use of a helicon plasma source in the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). Current studies have found sub-par performance of the helicon source as a stand-alone thruster. The Superconducting Helicon Thruster project is intended to resolve issues surrounding the low efficiency that is demonstrated in current helicon thruster technology. It is hypothesized that the key to generating a more efficient thruster lies in the magnetic field geometry. Type II superconducting tubes are used to shape the magnetic field lines of an externally applied field. Modifications to the field geometry may also allow for a more collimated beam through a sharply diverging magnetic field that supports more rapid plasma detachment. In addition, applying a magnetic mirror upstream is hypothesized to improve confinement and reduce the overall power lost to the plasma sheath at the plasma boundary. This thruster is also capable of utilizing various propellants, including water vapor. Designing a system that is capable of using water vapor as a propellant while still maintaining high performance (specific impulse and thrust density) may allow for realizing in-situ propellant utilization to support exploration throughout the Solar System.