Progress toward Low and Very Low Power Electric Propulsion for Microspacecraft and Other Aerospace Applications

Dr. Igal Kronhaus
Institute for Plasma Technology
Bundeswehr University Munich, Germany

Following the general trend of miniaturization of technology there is a growing interest in using microspacecraft (with mass under 100 kg) for a variety of missions, previously attainable only by larger and more expensive spacecraft. The concept of replacing a large spacecraft by a distributed system of smaller satellites, flying in formation, demands a profound change in spacecraft architecture. To enable these capabilities small, low mass and efficient propulsion systems are required. Due to their inherent propellant mass economy, electric propulsion (EP) systems are an obvious choice. However, current generation of EP systems (Hall effect and ion thrusters) are optimized to operate at power levels of ~ 1 kW. Scaling them to lower power levels causes a rapid decline in performance, rendering them unusable for smaller spacecraft with a limited available power.
My research program explores the physical processes governing an EP system with the aim of improving thruster performance at low power. At the same time, I look at spacecraft integration issues, clarifying if EP deficiencies  can be compensated as a system. In my first set of results, I will present my study on the plasma processes in a low power Hall thruster (CAMILA).
Conclusions are derived from measurements using electrostatic probes inside the thruster plasma as well as numerical modeling of the plasma using high fidelity particle-in-cell simulations. In my second set of results, I will discuss the development of an EP system for picosatellites where issues of extreme low power (~ 1 W) and lack of thruster performance are the determining factors in the spacecraft design. Simulated system performance as well as measurement results of the vacuum-arc-thruster propulsion system will be presented. The last set of results will present how low power EP technology can be used in solving other interesting aeronautical problems, specifically active control of high speed atmospheric flows.

The talk will be given in English

Mon, 10-03-2014, 16:30 (Gathering at 16:00)

Classroom, ground floor, Library, Aerospace Eng.

Light refreshments will be served before the lecture

Progress toward Low and Very Low Power Electric Propulsion for Microspacecraft and Other Aerospace Applications