Propulsion, plasma physics experimentalist joins AE as associate professor


Joshua L. Rovey
Joshua L. Rovey
Joshua L. Rovey, an experimentalist in space propulsion and plasma physics, has joined Aerospace Engineering at Illinois as an associate professor.

Rovey’s career and education has been centered in the Midwest. He comes to Illinois from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, where he had been working as an aerospace engineering faculty member since 2008. Prior to that he had worked two years for Starfire Industries, a Champaign, Illinois-based research and development firm that specializes in plasma engineering across a range of markets. Rovey earned three degrees from the University of Michigan: a bachelor’s in 2002, a master’s in 2003, and a PhD in 2006.

Rovey was drawn to Illinois because of its reputation and the opportunities the university would create.

“Aerospace at Illinois is well-known around the country as one of the top aerospace programs. Illinois is world-renowned for excellence in engineering,” Rovey said.

“The potential opportunities at Illinois include the people, the collaboration with other faculty, and the opportunities to work with the small business community in Champaign-Urbana. I’ve gained some familiarity with the university and the community from previous experiences.”

In AE, Rovey envisions working with Prof. Deborah Levin, Assistant Profs. Marco Panesi, Koki Ho and Zachary Putnam, and Adjunct Research Assistant Prof. Alex Ghosh. “Space activities in the department are really growing and expanding,” Rovey said. “That was part of the draw to come here.”

To start his Illinois career, Rovey will be making collaborations, writing grant proposals, and expanding upon the Propulsion Laboratory that Prof. Emeritus Rod Burton had established in the basement of Talbot Laboratory, AE’s headquarters.

“There are already excellent space propulsion facilities here, and I plan to build upon and enhance what is already available,” Rovey said. “Specifically, I plan to add an additional vacuum facility or space simulation facility for testing electric propulsion thruster systems. And I also plan to have experimental capabilities for studying propellants – both chemical and electric – and facilities for characterizing chemical microthrusters and electric electrospray thrusters, as well as some other novel concepts we’ve been throwing around.”

Rovey has concentrated much of his research work on multi-mode micro propulsion, which combines the use of chemical rockets and electric rockets for propelling spacecraft. “What we’ve been working on is a concept to integrate them together with one propellant, one propellant tank, one thruster system that could be used in either a chemical rocket or electric rocket mode.

“(The concept) is beneficial in terms of saving mass. But the real benefit is mission flexibility and adaptability, which is enabled by having both high thrust chemical and low thrust electric on board. The high thrust is used to change orbits or put the spacecraft into final orbit, and then low thrust electric can be used for attitude control or station keeping maneuvers. Electric mode is more fuel efficent but provides less thrust.

“The spacecraft mission might also evolve from what was originally planned,” Rovey continued. “Or maybe you need to launch the spacecraft, but you’re not sure exactly what the mission requirements or mission profile will be; you don't know exactly where it needs to be. When you launch with multi-mode, you gain the flexibility to perform a wide range of missions with one propulsion system.”