Mario Merino

I am an associate professor at the Aerospace Engineering department of UC3M working on the design, modeling, simulation, and testing of space plasma thrusters as part of the EP2 research group. My goal is to develop new technologies that enable efficient and cheap electric space propulsion.

About me

Hi! I am a young associate professor in aerospace engineer at UC3M who wants to learn more about how things work and use that knowledge to create new, revolutionary propulsion technologies—and, along the way, teach and share my passion with others.

My research interests are the physics of magnetized and unmagnetized plasmas, and new electric propulsion concepts such as magnetic nozzles, helicon plasma thrusters, and electron-cyclotron resonance plasma thrusters. As part of the Plasmas and Space Propulsion Team, I work on multi-fluid and kinetic plasma models, electromagnetic finite-difference and finite-element codes. I am also into the design and characterization of novel electrodeless plasma thrusters, as the PI of the ERC-ZARATHUSTRA research project.

In the last 10 years, I have taught various BSc and MSc Aerospace Engineering courses at UPM and UC3M, an activity that I find extremely rewarding. Presently, I teach courses on advanced space propulsion, astrodynamics and space systems, and classical mechanics. I am also co-author of the edX course "The Conquest of Space: space exploration and rocket science,".

Outside of work, I enjoy traveling, hiking, reading about maths and physics, learning languages, and tinkering with computers. I am also part of Celera Community, and founder of the scientific outreach community Esto No Es Una Charla. I am co-founder of the Spanish NGO "La Facultad Invisible," which seeks to improve university-level education. In case you want to know more about me, click below to see my full curriculum:


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. My work in this field has received several awards. Our research group 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 the European Research Council (Starting Grant program), the European Commission (FP7 and H2020 programs), ESA, the Spanish R&D program, the Community of Madrid, and the AFRL-EOARD, through several research projects. You can find out more in our group's website:

EP2 logo


I have recently been awarded with a Starting Grant from the European Research Council to lead the project ZARATHUSTRA: Revolutionizing advanced electrodeless plasma thrusters for space transportation. Project ZARATHUSTRA has the following overarching goal:

To unravel the physical underpinnings of electrodeless plasma thrusters (EPTs) and revolutionize their design.

As part of this activity, starting 2021 I will hire 6 researchers at PhD and Postdoc level in the following 5 years, to explore new areas of electric propulsion and bring into the field the knowledge from other fields such as microwave engineering and data-driven analysis based on nonlinear systems. You can learn more about ZARATHUSTRA on the project website.


Student internship opportunities

I have advised 2 PhD thesis and I am currently advising 5 more; and many BSc and MSc theses. Excellent students are always welcome in our group, and many have already worked with us in the past developing new models and codes, or in the lab. Whether you are looking for an Erasmus+ research internship, to do your BSc/MSc thesis, or to carry out a PhD thesis in the field of electric propulsion, feel free to contact me to explore current opportunities. While less frequently, postdoc positions may also be available.

What are we looking for? an outstanding academic record and a solid background in calculus, linear algebra, plasma physics, analytical mechanics, fluid dynamics, electromagnetism, scientific programming and numerical analysis. Some of this knowledge 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 in a team, and have strong analytical, critical and creative capabilities. International students are particularly welcome!


Below you can find and download an updated list of my recent and selected publications. If you are planning to cite the work of our group, 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)  [DOI]
  2. E. Ahedo & M. Merino, "On plasma detachment in propulsive magnetic nozzles", Physics of Plasmas 18, 053504 (2011)  [DOI]
  3. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Simulation of plasma flows in divergent magnetic nozzles", IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science 39, 2938-2939 (2011)  [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)  [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)
  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)  [DOI]
  7. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Two-dimensional quasi-double-layers in two-electron-temperature, current-free plasmas", Physics of Plasmas 20, 023502 (2013)  [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)  [DOI]
  9. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Plasma detachment in a propulsive magnetic nozzle via ion demagnetization", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 23, 032001 (2014)  [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)  [DOI]
  11. M. Merino, F. Cichocki & E. Ahedo, "Collisionless Plasma thruster plume expansion model", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 24, 035006 (2015)  [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)  [DOI]
  13. M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Fully magnetized plasma flow in a magnetic nozzle", Physics of Plasmas 23, 023506 (2016)  [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)  [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)  [DOI]
  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)  [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)  [DOI]
  18. F. Cichocki, A. Domínguez, M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Hybrid 3D model for the interaction of plasma thruster plumes with nearby objects", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 26, 125008 (2017)  [DOI]
  19. G. Giono, J. Gudmundsson, N. Ivchenko, S. Mazouffre, K. Dannenmayer, L. Popelier, D. Loubere, M. Merino & G. Olentsenko, "Non-Maxwellian Electron Energy Probability Functions in the plume of a SPT-100 Hall thruster", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 27, 015006 (2018)  [DOI]
  20. F. Cichocki, M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Simulation of the spacecraft-plasma-debris interaction in an ion beam shepherd mission", Acta Astronautica 146, 216–227 (2018)  [DOI]
  21. M. Merino, J. Mauriño-Alperovich & E. Ahedo, "Kinetic electron model for plasma thruster plumes", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 27, 035013 (2018)  [DOI]
  22. J. Ramos, M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Three dimensional fluid-kinetic model of a magnetically guided plasma jet", Physics of Plasmas 25, 061206 (2018)  [DOI]
  23. A. Domínguez-Vázquez, F. Cichocki, M. Merino, P. Fajardo & E. Ahedo, "Axisymmetric plasma plume characterization with 2D and 3D particle codes", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 27, 104009 (2018)  [DOI]
  24. B. Tian, M. Merino & E. Ahedo, "Two-dimensional plasma-wave interaction in an helicon plasma thruster with magnetic nozzle", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 27, 114003 (2018)  [DOI]
  25. M. Li, M. Merino, E. Ahedo & H. Tang "On electron boundary conditions in PIC plasma thruster plume simulations", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 28 034004 (2019)  [DOI]
  26. S. Correyero, M. Merino, P.Q. Elias, J. Jarrige, D. Packan & E. Ahedo "Characterization of diamagnetism inside an ECR thruster with a diamagnetic loop", Physics of Plasmas 26 053511 (2019)  [DOI]
  27. M. Merino, P. Fajardo, G. Giono, J.T. Gudmundsson, N. Ivchenko, S. Mazouffre, D. Loubere, & K. Dannenmayer "Collisionless electron cooling in a plasma thruster plume: experimental validation of a kinetic model", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 29 035029 (2020)  [DOI] (open access)
  28. E. Ahedo, S. Correyero, J. Navarro & M. Merino "Macroscopic and parametric study of a kinetic plasma expansion in a paraxial magnetic nozzle", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 29 045017 (2020)  [DOI]
  29. F. Cichocki, M. Merino & E. Ahedo "Three-dimensional geomagnetic field effects on a plasma thruster plume expansion", Acta Astronautica 175 190-203 (2020)  [DOI]
  30. Kaganovich, I. D., Smolyakov, A., Raitses, Y., Ahedo, E., Mikellides, I. G., Jorns, B., Taccogna, F., Gueroult, R., Tsikata, S., Bourdon, A., Boeuf, J.-P., Keidar, M., Powis, A. T., Merino, M., Cappelli, M., Hara, K., Carlsson, J. A., Fisch, N. J., Chabert, P., Schweigert, I., Lafleur, T., Matyash, K., Khrabrov, A. V., Boswell, R. W., & Fruchtman, A. "“Perspectives on Physics of ExB Discharges Relevant to Plasma Propulsion and Similar Technologies", Physics of Plasmas 27 120601 (2020)  [DOI]
  31. A. Sánchez-Villar, J. Zhou, E. Ahedo & M. Merino "Coupled plasma transport and electromagnetic wave simulation of an ECR thruster", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 30 045005 (2021)  [DOI]
  32. F. Cichocki, A. Domínguez-Vázquez, M. Merino, P. Fajardo & E. Ahedo "Three-dimensional neutralizer effects on a Hall-effect thruster near plume", Acta Astronautica 187 498-510 (2021)  [DOI]
  33. A. Domínguez-Vázquez, F. Cichocki, M. Merino, P. Fajardo, & E. Ahedo "On heavy particle-wall interaction in axisymmetric plasma discharges", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 30 085004 (2021)  [DOI]
  34. J. Perales, F. Cichocki, M. Merino, & E. Ahedo "Formation and neutralization of electric charge and current of an ion thruster plume", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 30 105023 (2021)  [DOI]
  35. M. Merino, J. Nuez & E. Ahedo "Fluid-kinetic model of a propulsive magnetic nozzle", Plasma Sources Science and Technology 30 115006 (2021)  [DOI]
  36. P. Jiménez, M. Merino & E. Ahedo "Wave propagation and absorption in a Helicon plasma thruster source and plume", Plasma Sources Science and Technology (submitted for publication)
  37. D. Maddaloni, A. Domínguez-Vázquez, M. Merino & F. Terragni "Data-driven analysis of oscillations in Hall thruster simulations", Plasma Sources Science and Technology (submitted for publication)


  1. M. Merino & E. Ahedo "Sistema sin partes móviles ni electrodos y procedimiento para vectorizar el empuje en motores espaciales de plasma", Spanish Patent Office, PCT patent ES2540167 (2013)  [LINK]
  2. M. Merino "Motor espacial de plasma sin electrodos con geometría en U", Spanish Patent Office, PCT patent ES2733773 (2019)  [LINK]

Conference papers

Please refer to my full CV for a list of conference papers.


I am currently in the process of publishing some of my numerical codes as open source for the whole research community to use freely. I believe this is also a great way to make research FAIR: findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable. You can find them in my GitHub profile:


Aerospace Engineering courses

I currently impart the following courses at UC3M as part of the BSc and MSc programs in Aerospace Engineering, and the new Master in Space Engineering. In the past I also taught other courses, which you can find in my cv. All courses are fully taught in English:

Introduction to Mechanics of Flight

Mechanics Applied to Aerospace Engineering

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

Space Vehicles and Orbital Mechanics

Space Vehicles and Orbital Mechanics

Fourth year, second semester BSc in Aerospace Engineering. 6 ECTS.

Modeling in Aerospace Engineering

Advanced Space Propulsion

Elective course, MSc in Space Engineering. 3 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 introduces several technical topics of aerospace engineering, from orbital mechanics to the principles of chemical rocket operation, space systems, and electric propulsion, and simultaneously walks you through the major chapters of the History of the conquest of space—what is now being called the beginnings of the "Space Age." The course presentation video can be watched here:

Also, I am in the process of creating online video tutorials for some of the official aerospace engineering courses that I am teaching. If you are curious on what I am working on, you can check out my latest videos on my Youtube profile.

Past courses and seminars

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


Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
Avenida de la Universidad 30
28911 Leganés (Madrid) Spain
Office: 7.3.H.06. View map
+34 91 624 8237
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