Development and Testing of a Field Ionized Ion Thruster for Microsatellite Applications
Shrank, Bryan P.
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Development of a miniaturized ion thruster would enable microsatellites to sustain orbits over a long period of time with a high efficiency while minimizing mass and volume. The advent of carbon nanotube technology has made the development of a field ionized ion thruster possible. An interagency effort between the Naval Postgraduate School and the Nanotechnology Lab at NASA Ames Research Center into the development of a field ionized ion thruster is undertaken. A test apparatus is designed and constructed in order to allow testing of carbon nanotube samples grown on a silicon substrate with a 200 u[micron]m by 200 u[micron]m hole as the ionizing element of a new design for an ion thruster. Field emission tests show measured geometric electric field enhancement factors for our samples ranging from 1428 to 5229. Two of seven experiments show successful ionization of argon gas in a flow. A measured current of 2.1 x 10[negative 5 power] Amps is achieved from a 14 u[micron]m sample with a 113 u[micron]m gap distance and an applied voltage of 1000 Volts. Characterization of the Drag Coefficient of the sample orifice is also conducted to allow for determination of the mass flow rate and maximum expected current in future tests.
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