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A mechanism to accelerate the late ablation in pulsed plasma thrusters

Intini Marques, Rodrigo (2009) A mechanism to accelerate the late ablation in pulsed plasma thrusters University of Southampton, School of Engineering Sciences, Doctoral Thesis , 192pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)


Pulsed Plasma Thrusters (PPTs) are long standing electric propulsion thrusters that are reliable, relatively simple and low cost. One of the main issues with the PPT is its poor utilization of the propellant and low efficiency. Typically only 40-60% of the propellant contributes to the production significant impulse and the efficiency is around 8%. The cause of the PPT’s poor propellant utilization is the late time ablation (LTA), which has a major impact on the efficiency. LTA is the sublimation of propellant that takes place after the main discharge, due to the propellant, usually Polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon®), being at a temperature above its sublimation point. The LTA produces a low speed gas and macro particles that do not contribute significantly to the thrust. This work presents a way of accelerating the late time ablation by employing an additional discharge after the main discharge, in a separate pair of electrodes. A new thruster, called the two-stage pulsed plasma thruster (TS-PPT) was built and tested. This thruster has two pair of electrodes: primary and secondary. The primary is placed in contact with the propellant surface, as in a regular PPT. The secondary is placed downstream, relatively far from the propellant. A new approach, dividing the PPT thrust generation in two phases, was envisioned. The first phase is responsible for the ablation process and takes place in the first pair of electrodes. The second phase takes place in the second pair of electrodes and is responsible for the acceleration process. The phase division allowed for propellant metering and better propellant utilization. Evidence was found that a pair of electrodes placed downstream, further from the propellant surface is able to discharge in the late ablation portion of the propellant and can impart extra energy into the exhaust and improve propellant utilization. A simple analytical model was developed to predict trends. A prototype of a TS-PPT was designed and built. A vacuum facility was modified, adapted, partially designed and built. An average mass bit consumption test was carried out. A simple time-of-flight experiment revealed that the fastest portions of the plasma from the primary electrodes discharge were travelling at around 33 km/s. Several current measurements were performed and calculations of the total electrical resistance, total inductance, electromagnetic impulse bit, specific impulse, efficiency, and other parameters were calculated based on experimental data. Experimental results indicated that significant improvements in the specific impulse and efficiency are possible by utilising a two-stage PPT. Specific impulses as high as 4000s were calculated based on experimental results, indicating a better propellant utilization.

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Published date: February 2009
Organisations: University of Southampton, Astronautics Group


Local EPrints ID: 67314
PURE UUID: 726b5f23-bb2b-4b4a-b732-1d7e336bc6a0

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Date deposited: 27 Aug 2009
Last modified: 19 Jul 2017 00:20

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Author: Rodrigo Intini Marques
Thesis advisor: Stephen Gabriel

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