National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

David Miculescu

Plasma Properties Measurements in the HiVHAc Thruster Plume

Abstract

David Miculescu
Georgia Institute of Technology, NASA Glenn Space Academy 2011

Hani Kamhawi, Ph.D.
NASA Glenn Research Center

As there are many competitive EP projects underway, the HiVHAc thruster development will demonstrate a long life and cost-effective thruster that will maintain a high specific impulse and low specific mass as a way to set it apart from state-of-the-art commercial thrusters. To achieve these goals, a greater understanding of the HiVHAc thruster plume plasma physics will help assess its performance and how the thruster will interact with the spacecraft. To achieve this understanding a series of electrostatic Langmuir probes will be constructed and tested with the thruster. After acquiring the I-V characteristic from the Langmuir probes, simple Langmuir probe theory will be employed to extract and determine the important the electron temperature, electron number density, and plasma potential.

Background

Space exploration is important to humanity because of many various reasons, some of which are the advancement of science and technology, the search for habitable locations appropriate for space colonization, and the identification and retrieval of natural resources necessary for continuation of life on Earth as we know it. Research and development efforts at NASA are focused to create enabling and enhancing space exploration systems. However, we must continue research in the field of space exploration to create engineering models or even state-of-the-art systems with the potential to achieve the stated objectives. One such enabling technology is electric propulsion.

Electric Propulsion is an enabling and enhancing technology that will allow NASA to cost effectively perform its science mission and exploration goals. Electric Propulsion is categorized into three major types: electrothermal, electrostatic, and electromagnetic. Arcjets and resistojets are electrothermal thrusters, ion and Hall thruster are electrostatic, and magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters (MPDT) are electrothermal. One class of thrusters that NASA Glenn Research Center is currently developing and testing is a type of electrostatic electric propulsion device called the voltage Hall accelerator (HiVHAc) which is a Hall Effect thruster (HET) that can attain specific impulse magnitudes up to 2,700 sec with long-life capability. NASA GRC is pursuing the development of a HiVHAc system that will compete and be proposed for NASA science missions. The HiVHAc system is being targeted for implementation in NASA Discovery and New Frontier class missions. The engineering model HiVHAc thruster will be entered into a long duration test. The other components of the HiVHAc system that NASA is developing include the power processing unit (PPU) and the Xenon feed system (XFS).

Research Goals and Benefits

As there are many different EP projects underway around the country, the HiVHAc thruster development will demonstrate a long life and cost-effective thruster that will maintain a high specific impulse and low specific mass as a way to set it apart from state-of-the-art commercial thrusters. To achieve these goals, a greater understanding of the HiVHAc thruster plume plasma physics will help assess its performance and how the thruster will interact with the spacecraft. To achieve this understanding a series of electrostatic Langmuir probes will be constructed and tested with the thruster. The Langmuir probes will measure the plasma properties in the thruster plume The Research Associate (RA) will become familiar with and apply Electrostatic Field Theory and implement the probes to measure the plasma properties in the thruster plume.

Furthermore, the RA will be responsible for the following:

  • Write and implement LabVIEW VIs for data collection,
  • Design the Langmuir plasma probes for the testing in vacuum facility 12 with the HiVHAc engineering model thruster,
  • Test plasma probe and collect data,
  • Analyze plasma probe data.