Available at: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/theses/1899
Date of Award
MS in Aerospace Engineering
Nanosatellites, such as Cubesats, are a rapidly growing sector of the space industry. Their popularity stems from their low development cost, short development cycle, and the widespread availability of COTS subsystems. Budget-conscious spacecraft designers are working to expand the range of missions that can be accomplished with nanosatellites, and a key area of development fueling this expansion is the creation of micropropulsion systems. One such system, originally developed at the Australian National University (ANU), is an electrothermal plasma thruster known as Pocket Rocket (PR). This device heats neutral propellant gas by exposing it to a Capacitively Coupled Plasma (CCP), then expels the heated gas to produce thrust. Significant work has gone towards understanding how PR creates and sustains a plasma and how this plasma heats the neutral gas. However, no research has been published on varying in the device's geometry. This thesis aims to observe how the size of the RF electrode affects PR operation, and to determine if it can be adjusted to improve performance. To this end, a thruster has been built which allows the geometry of the RF electrode to be easily varied. Measurements of the plasma density at the exit of this thruster with different sizes of electrode were then used to validate a Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) model capable of approximately reproducing experimental measurements from both this study and from the ANU team. From this CFD, the number of argon ions in the thruster was found for each geometry, since collisions between argon ions and neutrals are primarily responsible for the heating observed in the thruster. A geometry using a 10.5 mm electrode was observed to produce a 23% increase in the quantity of ions produced compared to the baseline 5 mm electrode size, and a 3.5 mm electrode appears to produce 88% more ions.