A radio-frequency (RF) inductively coupled electrothermal plasma thruster operating with argon is experimentally characterized for different mass flow rates, RF powers, and propellant injection configurations. Depending on the propellant mass flow rate, significant neutral gas heating is observed with effective stagnation temperatures around 2000 K (giving a maximum estimated thrust and specific impulse of about 100 mN and 125 s, respectively) for absorbed powers between 300 and 500 W. A self-consistent theoretical discharge model is developed and used to study the basic physics and operation of RF electrothermal thrusters, and predictions of the gas temperature are in good agreement with experimental measurements. The model identifies primary power inefficiencies as electron-neutral excitation losses and neutral gas heat losses to the thruster walls. Both experimental and theoretical results indicate that a relatively high stagnation pressure (of the order of 100 Torr or higher) is critical for high performance. For pressures significantly below this the electron-neutral collisional power transfer is too low to effectively heat the neutral gas.
Characterization of a radio-frequency inductively coupled electrothermal plasma thruster
Note: This paper is part of the Special Topic on Physics of Electric Propulsion.
T. Lafleur, C. S. Corr; Characterization of a radio-frequency inductively coupled electrothermal plasma thruster. J. Appl. Phys. 28 July 2021; 130 (4): 043304. https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0056124
Download citation file: