Wild new NASA plasma tech reduces drag during hypersonic flight

NASA’s Technology Transfer Program is licensing its rights to a radical new form of propulsion that uses electromagnets to control the flow of plasma over aircraft and spacecraft flying at hypersonic speeds.

As vehicles fly through a planetary atmosphere at hypersonic speeds — at least five times faster than the speed of sound — they generate a flow of charged gases. NASA’s concept involves two electrodes embedded on the heat shield of an aircraft or spacecraft, along with an electromagnet beneath the heat shield. The pair of electrodes capture the electrical charge in the ionized flow of gas outside the craft, either to charge a battery or to power an electromagnetic coil embedded in the aircraft or spacecraft. That’s where things get interesting.