Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Mechanical Engineering


Mechanical Engineering


Kim Shollenberger


The need and demand for propulsion devices on nanosatellites has grown over the last decade due to interest in expanding nanosatellite mission abilities, such as attitude control, station-keeping, and collision avoidance. One potential micro-propulsion device suitable for nanosatellites is an electrothermal plasma thruster called Pocket Rocket. Pocket Rocket is a low-power, low-cost propulsion platform specifically designed for use in nanosatellites such as CubeSats. Due to difficulties associated with integrating propulsion devices onto spacecraft such as volume constraints and heat dissipation limitations, a characterization of the heat generation and heat transfer properties of Pocket Rocket is necessary. Several heat-transfer models of Pocket Rocket were considered as a part of this analysis to determine viability and complexity of the analysis, including a lumped thermal model, a finite-element model written in MATLAB, and a finite-volume model constructed using ANSYS Fluent and environmental conditions to closely reflect the experimental environment, both steady-state and transient. Results were validated experimentally. A Pocket Rocket thruster was manufactured for this purpose, and data regressed against model predictions to compare the validity of predicted models. Thermal models compared favorably to experimental measurements, accurately predicting the temperatures obtained at the surface of the thruster within 10 Kelvin after 1.5 hours of operation as well as the temporally-dependent temperature increases during the duration of operation within a standard error of ±6 Kelvin. Mission and integration viability is found to be favorable and within the realm of practicality for use of Pocket Rocket on nanosatellites.