Mario Merino

I am an assistant professor at the Aerospace Engineering department at UC3M. Among other things, I work on the modeling, design, simulation and testing of plasma space propulsion systems as part of the EP2 research group. The goal is to develop new technologies that enable efficient and cheap space travel.

About me

Hi! I am a PhD aerospace engineer (graduated at UPM in 2013) who wants to learn more about this world and use that knowledge to create new, revolutionary propulsion technologies—and, along the way, teach and share my passion with others.

My research interests lie in the physics of magnetized and unmagnetized plasmas, and new electric propulsion concepts such as magnetic nozzles and helicon plasma thrusters. I work with multi-fluid and kinetic plasma models, and use computational techniques like the Particle-in-Cell (PIC) method. Recently, I have also initiated some experimental activities in our new plasma propulsion laboratory. I have authored a dozen of journal articles, registered a patent, and given more than 30 communications at international congresses, receiving several research awards.

In the last 6 years, I have taught various BSc and MSc Aerospace Engineering courses at UPM and UC3M, an activity that I find extremely rewarding. Presently, I impart lectures on astrodynamics, space systems, rocket engines and classical mechanics. I am co-author of the edX course "The Conquest of Space: space exploration and rocket science," and I am a founder of the Spanish NGO "La Facultad Invisible," which seeks to improve university-level education, and a member of the Celera Community of entrepreneurs.

Outside of work, I enjoy traveling, hiking, reading about maths and physics, learning languages, and tinkering with computers. In case you want to know more about me, click below to see my full curriculum:

Research

I research electric propulsion systems and plasma physics as part of the Equipo de Propulsión Espacial y Plasmas (EP2), Spain's reference research group on the modeling and numerical simulation of different types of plasma thrusters. Our research group routinely works together with other international research entities (such as UPM, MIT, ONERA, CNRS) and industrial companies (e.g. SENER, Airbus Defense and Space). Our work is funded mainly by ESA, the European Commission (FP7 and H2020 programs), the Spanish R&D program, and the AFRL-EOARD, through several research projects.

Lines of work

Helicon Plasma thruster

Helicon plasma thruster

Helicon plasma thrusters (HPT) consist of a cylindrical plasma source where a neutral gas is ionized and heated using helicon waves, and a magnetic nozzle where the plasma is accelerated into a high velocity jet. They are robust and simple, as they do not have any naked electrodes in contact with the plasma. We model and simulate the plasma transport inside the helicon source and the plasma-wave interaction with the in-house HELFLU and HELWAVE codes. Recently, we have developed the HPT-05 prototype in collaboration with SENER Ingeneriería y Sistemas.

Magnetic Nozzles

Magnetic Nozzles

A magnetic nozzle (MN) is a convergent-divergent magnetic field that can be used to channel and accelerate a plasma jet supersonically to generate magnetic thrust. Their main advantages over solid nozzles are that they operate contactlessly, so that plasma-wall contact is avoided, and that they can be modified in shape and strenght during flight to gain, for example, thrust vector control capabilities without any moving parts. The DIMAGNO two-fluid code developed during my PhD thesis is a useful tool to simulate MNs. Recently, we have patented a 3D magnetic nozzle capable of steering the plasma jet in any direction.

Plasma numerical simulation

Plasma numerical simulation

The main activity of our research group is the modeling and simulation of different plasma systems—all of which require the development of dedicated numerical codes. Consequently, we are continuously researching more advanced and efficient numerical algorithms. We have established various fluid models, particle-in-cell (PIC), and kinetic codes to simulate the different processes that take place in Hall effect thrusters, helicon plasma thrusters, plasma plumes, and others. All our codes are modular and extensible, and follow strict test-driven development techniques to facilitate their verification and validation; we use Fortran, C++, python and Matlab. Some of our codes are being made open source at GitHub. Our simulations are run on two heavy-duty workstations with 256 GB RAM, 20 and 44 physical cores each.

Active space debris removal

Active space debris removal

After more than 50 years of space operations, we have rendered our Low Earth Orbits (LEO) and Geostationary orbit (GEO) full of dead satellites, fragments, and upper stages. Dramatic collisional events have already taken place, and quite often the ISS must perform debris-avoidance maneuvers to avoid a potential threat. In the FP7 LEOSWEEP project we have studied an innovative means to tackle the space debris problem—the Ion Beam Shepherd (IBS). In this concept, a plasma plume is used to push contactlessly and efficiently a piece of debris to force its reentry into the atmosphere. The EASYPLUME and EP2Plus codes have been used to model the expansion of the plume and the transmission of momentum to the target object.

Plasma plumes and plasma-spacecraft interaction

Plasma plumes and plasma-spacecraft interaction

The operation of a plasma thruster creates an energetic plasma plume that expands into space. The peripheral part of this plume can contaminate and erode the exposed elements of the spacecraft, and affect its electrical charging state. These phenomena can become a serious issue in modern telecommunication satellites. Our two-fluid EASYPLUME code and the 3D hybrid PIC/FLUID EP2Plus code have been developed to study plasma plumes and their interaction with the environment.

Plasma diagnostics and EP laboratory

Plasma diagnostics and EP laboratory

Our new electric propulsion laboratory has a 1.5 m inner diameter, 3.5 m length vacuum chamber with great optical and mechanical access to the interior. A set of cryopanels and turbomolecular pumps provide more than 35000 l/s combined pumping velocity on Xe or Ar in an oil-free environment. We are developing and modeling different types of plasma probes, an automated 3D scanning system, and optical spectroscopy diagnostic techniques to support our experimental activities.

Plasma waves and ECR thruster

Plasma waves and ECR thruster

Electromagnetic waves behave very differently in a plasma compared to vacuum—many different types of waves can exist depending on their frequency, the plasma density, and the background magnetic field. Analogously to the helicon waves in the helicon plasma thruster, the electron-cyclotron resonance is an efficient heating mechanism that has been proposed for the design of a new type of plasma thruster—the ECR plasma thruster. In the frame of the H2020 MINOTOR project our group will develop a complete simulation framework for all the key processes in this device; the simulation of the plasma-wave phenomena has some synergies in both thrusters.

Student opportunities

Excellent students are always welcome in our group, and many have already worked with us in the past; whether you are looking for an Erasmus+ research internship, or to do your BSc/MSc thesis in the field of electric propulsion, feel free to contact me to explore current opportunities. While rarer, PhD positions may also be available.

What are we looking for? an outstanding academic record and a solid background in calculus, linear algebra, analytical mechanics, fluid dynamics, electromagnetism, scientific programming and numerical analysis. Prior knowledge of plasma physics is welcome too but can be acquired as you work in our group. For experimental work, experience in a research laboratory is desirable. Students should be able to work autonomously and have strong analytical, critical and creative capabilities.

Publications

Below you can find and download an updated list of my recent and selected publications. If you are planning to cite my work, please use the following BibTEX file to ensure all references are formatted correctly.

Peer-reviewed publications

  1. E. Ahedo & M. Merino, "Two-dimensional supersonic plasma acceleration in a magnetic nozzle", Physics of Plasmas 17, 073501 (2010)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  2. E. Ahedo & M. Merino, "On plasma detachment in propulsive magnetic nozzles", Physics of Plasmas 18, 053504 (2011)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  3. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Simulation of plasma flows in divergent magnetic nozzles", IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science 39, 2938-2939 (2011)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  4. E. Ahedo & M. Merino, "Two-dimensional plasma expansion in a magnetic nozzle: separation due to electron inertia", Physics of Plasmas 19, 083501 (2012)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  5. C. Bombardelli, H. Urrutxua, M. Merino, E. Ahedo & J. Peláez, "Relative Dynamics and Control of an Ion Beam Shepherd Satellite", published in Spaceflight mechanics 2012 143, 2145-2158, edited by James V. McAdams and David P. McKinley and Matthew M. Berry and Keith L. Jenkins . ISBN: 9780877035817, 9780877035824 (2012, Univelt)  [PDF]
  6. C. Bombardelli, H. Urrutxua, M. Merino, J. Peláez & E. Ahedo, "The ion beam shepherd: A new concept for asteroid deflection", Acta Astronautica 90, 98-102 (2013)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  7. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Two-dimensional quasi-double-layers in two-electron-temperature, current-free plasmas", Physics of Plasmas 20, 023502 (2013)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  8. M. Merino, E. Ahedo, C. Bombardelli, H. Urrutxua & J. Peláez, "Ion Beam Shepherd satellite for Space Debris Removal", published in Progress in Propulsion Physics IV, 789-802, edited by Luigi T. DeLuca and Christophe Bonnal and Oskar J. Haidn and Sergey M. Frolov . ISBN: 978-2-7598-0876-2 (2013, Torus Press)  [PDF]
  9. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Plasma detachment in a propulsive magnetic nozzle via ion demagnetization", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 23, 032001 (2014)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  10. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Influence of Electron and Ion Thermodynamics on the Magnetic Nozzle Plasma Expansion", IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science 43, 244-251 (2015)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  11. M. Merino, F. Cichocki & E. Ahedo, "Collisionless Plasma thruster plume expansion model", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 24, 035006 (2015)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  12. A. Alpatov, F. Cichocki, A. Fokov, S. Khoroshylov, M. Merino & A. Zakrzhevskii, "Determination of the Force Transmitted by an Ion Thruster Plasma Plume to an Orbital Object", Acta Astronautica 119, 241 - 251 (2016)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  13. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Fully magnetized plasma flow in a magnetic nozzle", Physics of Plasmas 23, 023506 (2016)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  14. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Effect of the plasma-induced magnetic field on a magnetic nozzle", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 25, 045012 (2016)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  15. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Magnetic Nozzles for Space Plasma Thrusters", published in Encyclopedia of Plasma Technology 2, edited by J. Leon Shohet (2016, Taylor and Francis)  [PDF]
  16. F. Cichocki, M. Merino, E. Ahedo, M. Smirnova, A. Mingo & M. Dobkevicius, "Electric Propulsion Subsystem Optimization for ``Ion Beam Shepherd'' Missions", Journal of Propulsion and Power 33, 370–378 (2017)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  17. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Contactless steering of a plasma jet with a 3D magnetic nozzle", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 26, 095001 (2017)  [PDF]  [DOI]

Selected conference papers

  1. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Two-dimensional magnetic nozzle acceleration of a two-electron component plasma", in Space Propulsion Conference 2010, (2010, ESA)  [PDF]
  2. E. Ahedo & M. Merino, "On electron inertia and current ambipolarity in magnetic nozzle models", in 32nd International Electric Propulsion Conference, IEPC-2011-050 (2011, Electric Rocket Propulsion Society)  [PDF]
  3. M. Merino, E. Ahedo, C. Bombardelli, H. Urrutxua, J. Peláez & L. Summerer, "Space Debris Removal with an Ion Beam Shepherd Satellite: target-plasma interaction", in 47th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference & Exhibit, AIAA-2011-6142 (2011, AIAA)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  4. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Plasma detachment mechanisms in a magnetic nozzle", in 47th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference & Exhibit, AIAA-2011-5999 (2011, AIAA)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  5. M. Merino, E. Ahedo, C. Bombardelli, H. Urrutxua & J. Peláez, "Hypersonic Plasma Plume Expansion in Space", in 32nd International Electric Propulsion Conference, IEPC-2011-086 (2011, Electric Rocket Propulsion Society)  [PDF]
  6. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Magnetic Nozzle Far-Field Simulation", in 48th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference & Exhibit, AIAA-2012-3843 (2012, AIAA)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  7. M. Ruiz, I. Urdampilleta, C. Bombardelli, E. Ahedo, M. Merino & F. Cichocki, "The FP7 LEOSWEEP Project, improving low Earth orbit security with enhanced electric propulsion", in Space Propulsion Conference 2014, (2014, European Space Agency)  [PDF]
  8. F. Cichocki, M. Merino, E. Ahedo, Y. Hu & J. Wang, "Fluid vs PIC Modeling of a Plasma Plume Expansion", in 34th International Electric Propulsion Conference, IEPC-2015-420 (2015, Electric Rocket Propulsion Society)  [PDF]
  9. M. Merino, J. Navarro, S. Casado, E. Ahedo, V. Gómez, M. Ruiz, E. Bosch & J. G. del Amo, "Design and development of a 1kW-class helicon antenna thruster", in 34th International Electric Propulsion Conference, IEPC-2015-297 (2015, Electric Rocket Propulsion Society)  [PDF]
  10. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Towards thrust vector control with a 3D steerable magnetic nozzle", in 34th International Electric Propulsion Conference, IEPC-2015-414 (2015, Electric Rocket Propulsion Society)  [PDF]
  11. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Modelling the expansion of magnetized plasma jets in electric propulsion", in 32nd International Conference on Plasmas and Ionized Gases, Invited talk TL19 (2015, European Physical Society)  [PDF]
  12. M. Merino, J. Navarro, E. Ahedo, V. Gómez, V. Sánchez, M. Ruiz, K. Dannenmayer, E. Bosch & J. González, "Maiden tests of the HPT05 helicon plasma thruster prototype", in Space Propulsion Conference 2016, 3125014 (2016, European Space Agency)  [PDF]
  13. M. Merino, A. Proux, P. Fajardo & E. Ahedo, "Collisionless electron cooling in unmagnetized plasma thruster plumes", in 52th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference & Exhibit, AIAA 2016-5037 (2016, AIAA)  [PDF]  [DOI]
  14. B. Tian, E. Ahedo & M. Merino, "Development and Validation of a 2D wave-plasma code for helicon plasma thrusters", in Space Propulsion Conference 2016, 3124913 (2016, European Space Agency)  [PDF]

Code

I am currently in the process of publishing many of my numerical codes as open source for the whole research community to use freely. You can find them in my GitHub profile:

Teaching

Aerospace Engineering courses

I currently impart the following courses at UC3M as part of the BSc and MSc Aerospace Engineering programs. All courses are fully taught in English:

Introduction to Mechanics of Flight

Introduction to Mechanics of Flight

Second year, first semester BSc Aerospace Engineering. 6 ECTS.

Rocket Motors

Rocket Motors

Fourth year, first semester BSc Aerospace Engineering. 3 ECTS.

Aerospace propulsion: complements I

Aerospace propulsion: complements I

Fourth year, second semester BSc Aerospace Engineering. 3 ECTS.

Astrodynamics and atmospheric flight dynamics

Astrodynamics and atmospheric flight dynamics

First year, first semester MSc Aeronautical Engineering. 6 ECTS.

Space Systems Design

Space Systems Design

First year, second semester MSc Aeronautical Engineering. 6 ECTS.

Online courses

As a collective effort with other young aerospace engineering professors and PhD students, I have co-authored an EdX Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) titled "The conquest of Space: Space Exploration and Rocket Science." This 7-week course focuses on the major chapters of the History of the conquest of space—what is now being called the beginnings of the "Space Age"—and simultaneously introduces several technical topics of aerospace engineering, from orbital mechanics to the principles of chemical rocket operation, space systems, and electric propulsion. The course contains several hours of videos, interactive exercises and problems, and a number of interviews with space industry experts. The first edition of the course took place in 2015–2016, and the second in 2016–2017. The course presentation video can be watched here:

Past courses

Besides the courses described above, in the past I have also tought the following:

  • Aerospace Propulsion: Third year, first semester BSc Aerospace Engineering (UC3M). 6 ECTS. In English.
  • Mathematics I: First year, first semester BSc Aerospace Engineering (UPM). 9 ECTS. In Spanish.
    You can still download a small Matlab program that I created to visualize conics and quadrics for one unit of the course.
  • Computer Programming: First year BSc Aerospace Engineering (UPM). 6 ECTS. In Spanish.
    You can still download the class slides .

Other courses and seminars

Outside of the regulated teaching programs, I have given and organized a few seminars and teaching activities:

Contact

Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
Avda. de la Universidad 30
28911 Leganés (Madrid) Spain
Office: 7.1.H.14. View map
+34 91 624 8237
mario.merino@uc3m.es