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Optimization, Test and Diagnostics of Miniaturized Hall Thrusters

Published: February 16th, 2019



1Plasma Sources and Applications Centre, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, 2School of Chemistry, Physics, Mechanical Engineering, Queensland University of Technology, 3Department of Physics, School of Science, Hangzhou Dianzi University

Here, we present a protocol to test and optimize space propulsion systems based on miniaturized Hall-type thrusters.

Miniaturized spacecraft and satellites require smart, highly efficient and durable low-thrust thrusters, capable of extended, reliable operation without attendance and adjustment. Thermochemical thrusters which utilize thermodynamic properties of gases as a means of acceleration have physical limitations on their exhaust gas velocity, resulting in low efficiency. Moreover, these engines demonstrate extremely low efficiency at small thrusts and may be unsuitable for continuously operating systems which provide real-time adaptive control of the spacecraft orientation, velocity and position. In contrast, electric propulsion systems which use electromagnetic fields to accelerate ionized gases (i.e., plasmas) do not have any physical limitation in terms of exhaust velocity, allowing virtually any mass efficiency and specific impulse. Low-thrust Hall thrusters have a lifetime of several thousand hours. Their discharge voltage ranges between 100 and 300 V, operating at a nominal power of <1 kW. They vary from 20 to 100 mm in size. Large Hall thrusters can provide fractions of millinewton of thrust. Over the past few decades, there has been an increasing interest in small mass, low power, and high efficiency propulsion systems to drive satellites of 50-200 kg. In this work, we will demonstrate how to build, test, and optimize a small (30 mm) Hall thruster capable of propelling a small satellite weighing about 50 kg. We will show the thruster operating in a large space environment simulator, and describe how thrust is measured and electric parameters, including plasma characteristics, are collected and processed to assess key thruster parameters. We will also demonstrate how the thruster is optimized to make it one of the most efficient small thrusters ever built. We will also address challenges and opportunities presented by new thruster materials.

Renewed interest in the space industry has in part been catalyzed by highly efficient electric propulsion systems that deliver enhanced mission capabilities at increasingly reduced launch costs1,2,3. Many different types of space electric propulsion devices have recently been proposed and tested4,5,6,7,8 supported by the present-day interest in space exploration9,.css-f1q1l5{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:flex-end;-webkit-box-align:flex-end;-ms-flex-align:flex-end;align-items:flex-end;background-image:linear-gradient(180deg, rgba(255, 255, 255, 0) 0%, rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.8) 40%, rgba(255, 255, 255, 1) 100%);width:100%;height:100%;position:absolute;bottom:0px;left:0px;font-size:var(--chakra-fontSizes-lg);color:#676B82;}

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Here we present the protocols for the thrust calibration procedure and performance evaluation, independent thrust verification via null measurement and plume profilometry through spatial in situ data sensing.

1. Thrust calibration procedure and thrust performance evaluation

  1. Ensure that all components are installed in the chamber as shown in Figure 5.
  2. Test the connectivity of the diagnostic tools externally before sealing the chamber.<.......

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Thrust calibration procedure and thrust performance evaluation

Evaluation of thrust values from the quadfilar thrust measurement stage comes in two phases. The first phase is through obtaining calibration factors from the automated wireless calibration unit shown to the right of Figure 5. In this calibration process, fine weights are lowered across a smooth polytetrafluoroethylene b.......

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Typical Hall-type thrusters44 are relatively simple, cheap and highly efficient devices that could accelerate an ion flux to the velocities of several tens of km/s, providing thrust required for accelerating satellites and spacecraft, as well as for maneuvering, orientation, position and attitude control, and de-orbiting at the end of their operation service life. Application of Hall thrusters on satellites and other orbital payloads enhance mission lifetime, allow orbital transfer and formation/c.......

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This work was supported in part by OSTIn-SRP/EDB, the National Research Foundation (Singapore), Academic Research Fund AcRF Tier 1 RP 6/16 (Singapore), and the George Washington Institute for Nanotechnology (USA). I. L. acknowledges the support from the School of Chemistry, Physics and Mechanical Engineering, Science and Engineering Faculty, Queensland University of Technology.


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Arduino Microcontroller Arduino Arduino Uno Rev 3
Bluetooth communication device SG Botic WIR-02471
Cryogenic Pump ULVAC CRYO-U12HLE 
Digital Oscilloscope Yokogawa DLM 2054
Dry Pump Agilent Triscroll-600
High resolution laser displacement sensor Micro-Epsilon optoNCDT ILD-1420-50
Mass Flow Controller MKS MKS M100B
Optical Emission Spectrometer Avantes AvaSpec-ULS2048XL-EVO
Servo Motor Tower Pro Servo Motor SG90
Stepper Motor Oriental Motor PKP213D05A
Turbomolecular Pump Pfeiffer ATH-500M

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