Optimization of pulsed plasma thrusters for microsatellite propulsion

P. J. Turchi, I. G. Mikellides, P. G. Mikellides, H. Kamhawi

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Simplicity, robustness and ability to operate in pulses at low average power have allowed selection of the pulsed plasma microthruster (PPT) for spaceflight application even though its thrust efficiency and mass utilization have historically been very poor. Recent success in modeling PPT behavior has led to new insights that permit optimization of performance for microsatellite needs. In particular, the circuit current must match the propellant dimensions in order to minimize the loss of mass at very low exhaust speed. Ideally, this match occurs when temperatures in the propellant exceed the value for decomposition only for a depth corresponding to the mass accelerated electromagnetically by the plasma discharge. The unsteady nature of heat flow in the PPT requires consideration of both the temporal and spatial distribution of the discharge, in addition to the peak amplitude of the current pulse. The paper presents results of analytical and numerical modeling and discusses optimization of propellant properties for satisfying mission requirements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes
Event35th Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit, 1999 - Los Angeles, United States
Duration: Jun 20 1999Jun 24 1999


Other35th Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit, 1999
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityLos Angeles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Aerospace Engineering


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