Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

First Advisor

Stephen A. Whitmore

Second Advisor

David Geller

Third Advisor

R. Rees Fullmer


Hybrid rocket ignition has historically involved either dangerous energetic materials or inefficient and failure-prone plasma sources. The vast majority of such systems cannot sup- port multiple restart cycles, thus limiting the applicability of hybrid rockets–especially for in-space propulsion. During research investigating its use as a fuel for hybrid rockets, it was discovered that Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) plastic possesses unique electrical breakdown characteristics. During a properly designed breakdown event, application of a strong electric field induces a high-temperature arc along the surface of the ABS, concurrent with rapid production of hydrocarbon vapor. This behavior forms the basis of a novel ABS arc ignition system. Several such systems were designed, built and tested. Minimum con- ditions for successful operation were discovered, including minimum ignition pressure and electrical power requirements. Hands-off restart capability was demonstrated repeatedly. Finally, paths of inquiry for future research are outlined.