Dillon O’Reilly

ORCID ID: 0000-0002-4140-4576

Research Project Title: Electric Propulsion for Small Satellites using Advanced Pulsed Plasma Thrusters

Supervisors/s: Dr. Darren Francies Kavanagh and Dr. Stephen Scully. External Supervisor: Dr. Simon Pete Worden

Project Funding: IRC Government of Ireland PhD Scholarship  GOIPG20201566



  • Biography
  • Research Project Description
  • Publications and Outputs


Meet Dillon, a postgrad in aerospace engineering specializing in small satellite propulsion systems. Since 2014, his journey with SETU Carlow has taken him from a first-class honours degree to cosmic adventures with Breakthrough Initiatives, where he worked on projects searching for life in the Universe and pioneering advanced propulsion concepts. Recognised with a scholarship from the Irish Research Council, he returned to SETU Carlow, contributing two major publications to his field thus far. Equally adventurous on terra firma, Dillon enjoys running, hiking, and cold swims. Dillon, your very own Starman, is eager to share his passion for space and exploration.

Research Project Description

Creating lightweight spacecrafts (<100kg) presents a universe of possibilities, but selecting each subsystem is like a finely tuned dance due to mass, power, and size constraints. Enter the game-changer: Pulsed Plasma Thrusters (PPTs), a form of electric propulsion ideal for small satellites. PPTs not only ensure attitude control and stability, but also enable orbital maneuvering, active de-orbiting, formation flights, and even spacecraft lifetime extension. This research introduces a novel low power co-axial PPT power processing unit converter, designed for higher power efficiencies and reduced mass and size. This converter charges a 5 J PPT to 1600 V with an efficiency of 86%. The improvements in efficiency, size, and mass reduce power loss and costs, and pave the way for more ambitious scientific missions and higher payload capacities, all while mitigating spacecraft debris. Welcome to the future of small satellite propulsion.

Publications and Outputs

  1. O’Reilly, D., Herdrich, G. and Kavanagh, D.F., 2021. Electric propulsion methods for small satellites: A review. Aerospace, 8(1), p.22. available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/aerospace8010022
    1. Propulsion systems on smallsats provide orbital manoeuvring, station keeping, collision avoidance and safer de-orbit strategies. In return, this enables longer duration, higher functionality missions beyond Earth orbit. This article has reviewed electrostatic, electrothermal and electromagnetic propulsion methods based on recent research and the current knowledge base. Performance metrics by which these space propulsion systems can be evaluated are presented. The article outlines some of the existing limitations and shortcomings of current electric propulsion thruster systems and technologies.
  1. O’Reilly, D., Herdrich, G., Schäfer, F., Montag, C., Worden, S.P., Meaney, P. and Kavanagh, D.F., 2023. A Coaxial Pulsed Plasma Thruster Model with Efficient Flyback Converter Approaches for Small Satellites. accepted for publication in MDPI Aerospace special issue on numerical simulations in electric propulsion: Accepted June 1st Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2226-4310/10/6/540
    1. Pulsed Plasma Thrusters (PPT) have demonstrated enormous potential since the 1960s. One major shortcoming is their low thrust efficiency typically < 30 %. Most of these losses are due to joule heating and some can be attributed to poor efficiency of the power processing units (PPUs). We model PPTs to improve their efficiency by exploring the use of power electronic topologies to enhance the power conversion efficiency from the DC source to the thruster head.
  2. Kringe, P.H.; Fischer, J.; Koka, H.; Atasever, T.; Johnson, C.; Harrington, A.; O’Reilly, D. Copuos simulation workshop results from the 2018 ISU Space studies Program in Proceedings of the International Astronautical Conference (IAC) volume 2018, Bremen Germany. Available at: https://www.scopus.com/record/display.uri?eid=2-s2.0-85065341320&origin=inward&txGid=0b5c079744fe7e0f042a837fbe015333
  3. McAvinia, R. and Shaw, N. and Johnson, C. and Harrington, A. and O’Reilly, D. Governance principles fostering the Moon village vision in proceedings of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) volume 2018, Bremen Germany. Available at: https://www.scopus.com/record/display.uri?eid=2-s2.0-85065738173&origin=inward&txGid=362a7f9a2c844cc98d65f830424a0367
  4. Presenter at:
    1. MCCI Electronics Conference 16th and 17th June 2021.
    2. Postgrad Conference in SETU Carlow May 31st 2023 ‘Pushing Boundaries’
    3. MCCI Electronics Conference 8th June 2023