An increasingly large percentage of satellites launched are CubeSats — small satellites under a meter on each side. Shrinking satellites to these smaller dimensions makes them significantly cheaper, but the compact size can cause issues between systems that are pushed closer together. For instance, the plasma plume generated by the satellite’s thruster can interfere with microwave antennas used for communication.

De Mejanes et al. developed a numerical model for the relationship between thruster plasma and microwave antennas. Their model is designed to enable CubeSats with many different configurations to operate without interference.

“We address the important issue of electromagnetic compatibility of an electric thruster with the microwave antennas on a CubeSat,” said author Naomi de Mejanes. “To this end, we simulate the characteristics of a dipole antenna when located near a Hall thruster’s plume.”

The numerical approach allowed the authors to study a wide range of CubeSat arrangements by changing thrusters, antennas, platforms, and operating conditions. They hope the results will be applicable to the increasingly diverse array of CubeSats planned for the near future.

The researchers emphasize that these simulations are only the beginning, and more work needs to be done to model the characteristics of the thruster plume and the additional noise it can produce. They also plan to verify their model using experimental studies.

“The next step is to experimentally validate the proposed method,” said de Mejanes. “We will replace the thruster and its plume by a plasma in a glass enclosure. This will allow us to be more compact and to study the characteristics of a nearby antenna.”

Source: “Simulation of the microwave propagation through the plume of a hall thruster integrated on small spacecraft,” by Naomi de Mejanes, Romain Pascaud, Valentin Mazières, Alberto Rossi, Vincent Laquerbe, Laurent Garrigues, and Olivier Pascal, Journal of Applied Physics (2022). The article can be accessed at