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Title: Pulsed plasma thrusters for pico satellites
Authors: Sammut, Matthew
Keywords: Artificial satellites -- Propulsion systems
Printed circuits
Issue Date: 2018
Citation: Sammut, M. (2018). Pulsed plasma thrusters for pico satellites (Bachelor’s dissertation).
Abstract: Pico-satellites are inherently small and typically launched in the low earth orbit (LEO), where they experience a very slow orbital decay as there is very little atmospheric drag. This could lead to problems if the satellite stops functioning as it will be classified as space junk, where it could become a collision hazard for other missions. To solve this problem, the satellite is launched at a meta-stable lower altitude orbit where it will naturally de-orbit in a short time if any malfunctions occur within the satellite. An active propulsion system is required in this scenario to maintain its orbit until it has accomplished the mission. Such thruster can also be used to perform orbital manoeuvres on satellite swarms, which is required in order to place them in their respective formation for maximum effectiveness. The pulsed plasma thruster (PPT) is an electric propulsion system that is mechanically simple and contains a solid propellant. This allows it to occupy a small percentage of the volume, weight and power budget of the pico-satellite. This dissertation discusses the research, design and implementation of a controlled high voltage generation circuit of a PPT for pico-satellites, followed by an investigation on the thrust generating mechanism behind the thruster. The design process involves implementing multiple printed circuit boards (PCB) to resolve any problems caused by the high voltage and the plasma generated, while simulating the electric fields generated by the PPT. The circuits are subjected to experiments at atmospheric pressure and at a high vacuum environment while the thruster is continuously fired. The plasma is found to be accelerating out of the PPT, implying that in line with Newton’s Law, thrust is generated. While examining the thruster, a layer of carbon shorting the PPT electrodes has been discovered, effectively shortening the life span of the thruster. Additionally, a threedimensional (3D) profile of the Teflon surface revealed that propellant ablation took place, increasing the density of the accelerated plasma, which should theoretically generate more thrust.
Appears in Collections:Dissertations - FacEng - 2018
Dissertations - FacEngESE - 2018

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