Plasma and aerodynamic features have been investigated for a microplasma thruster of electrothermal type using azimuthally symmetric microwave-excited microplasmas. The thruster developed consisted of a microplasma source 1.5 mm in diameter, 10 mm long with a rod antenna on axis, and a converging-diverging micronozzle 1 mm long with a throat 0.2 mm in diameter. The feed or propellant gas employed was Ar at pressures of 10–50 kPa with flow rates of 10–70 SCCM (SCCM denotes standard cubic centimeter per minute at STP) and the surface wave-excited plasmas were established by 4.0 GHz microwaves at powers of 6W. Numerical analysis was made for the plasma and flow properties by developing a self-consistent, two-dimensional model, where a two-temperature fluid model was applied to the entire region through the microplasma source to the micronozzle (or through subsonic to supersonic); in the former, an electromagnetic model based on the finite difference time-domain approximation was also employed for analysis of microwaves interacting with plasmas. In experiments, optical emission spectroscopy was employed with a small amount of additive gases of H2 and N2, to measure the plasma electron density and gas temperature in the microplasma source around the top of the microwave antenna, just upstream of the micronozzle inlet; in practice, the numerical analysis exhibited a maximum thereabout for the microwave power density absorbed, plasma density, and gas temperature. The Stark broadening of H Balmer line and the vibronic spectrum of N2 second positive band indicated that the electron density was in the range of (312)×1019m3 and the gas or rotational temperature was in the range of 700–1000 K. The thrust performance was also measured by using a microthrust stand with a combination of target and pendulum methods, giving a thrust in the range of 0.2–1.4 mN, a specific impulse in the range of 50–80 s, and a thrust efficiency in the range of 2%–12%. These experimental results were consistent with those of numerical analysis, depending on microwave power and gas flow rate.

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