Thermal Modeling for Pulsed Inductive FRC Plasmoid Thrusters
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Due to the rising importance of space based infrastructure, long-range robotic space missions, and the need for active attitude control for spacecraft, research into Electric Propulsion is becoming increasingly important. Electric Propulsion (EP) systems utilize electric power to accelerate ions in order to produce thrust. Unlike traditional chemical propulsion, this means that thrust levels are relatively low. The trade-off is that EP thrusters have very high specific impulses (Isp), and can therefore make do with far less onboard propellant than cold gas, monopropellant, or bipropellant engines. As a consequence of the high power levels used to accelerate the ionized propellant, there is a mass and cost penalty in terms of solar panels and a power processing unit. Due to the large power consumption (and waste heat) from electric propulsion thrusters, accurate measurements and predictions of thermal losses are needed. Excessive heating in sensitive locations within a thruster may lead to premature failure of vital components. Between the fixed cost required to purchase these components, as well as the man-hours needed to assemble (or replace) them, attempting to build a high-power thruster without reliable thermal modeling can be expensive. This paper will explain the usage of FEM modeling and experimental tests in characterizing the ElectroMagnetic Plasmoid Thruster (EMPT) and the Electrodeless Lorentz Force (ELF) thruster at the MSNW LLC facility in Redmond, Washington. The EMPT thruster model is validated using an experimental setup, and steady state temperatures are predicted for vacuum conditions. Preliminary analysis of the ELF thruster indicates possible material failure in absence of an active cooling system for driving electronics and for certain power levels.