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Air-Fuelled Plasma Propulsion System

Air-Fuelled Plasma Propulsion System

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Published by analogalex
Research report detailing experiments to assess the suitability of air as a propellant in plasma propulsion systems
Research report detailing experiments to assess the suitability of air as a propellant in plasma propulsion systems

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Published by: analogalex on Jun 29, 2009
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Canterbury UniversityDepartment of Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Air-Fuelled Plasma Propulsion System
2008 Final Year Project ReportbyAlexander C. KendonSupervisor: Dr Wade Enright
Ion thrusters are propulsion systems that utilise the forces that are exerted on charged particles byelectric and magnetic fields. Current designs are not well suited to use in-atmosphere because thefuel cannot be readily ionized at atmospheric pressures. This project focuses on the development of an ion thruster that can be operated in air at normal atmospheric pressure. In order to achieve this,the lightning arc drawing concept was to be adapted so that a strongly ionized air path could becreated and excited into a plasma channel by a high energy electrical discharge.Initial tests focused on the development of a system that could plasmerise a corona ring byinduction, but this resulted in major damage to the arc drawing electrodes and little or no energywas transmitted to the corona. Attempts were then made to use a corona generated between twosheets of NMN insulation by electrodes on either side to form a plasma channel. Initial attemptsfailed, so a study of the effect of corona excitation voltage on breakdown strength was performed.These tests showed that this method could not be made to work with the voltages available in thelab. In the absence of any method for creating the breakdown path needed in air a thruster designwas tested using a plasma path generated by exploding wire. This design was able to direct some of the plasma cloud and shows promise for further development. It is likely that the use of an arcdrawing which creates streamers along the desired path will allow a plasma channel to be createdand further development will likely produce a successful result.2
Ion thrusters are an emerging technology that utilizes the reaction of charged particles to electricand magnetic fields to create thrust. Current designs use various different configurations that takeadvantage of Electrostatic, Lorentz and Hall Effect forces to repel ionized gasses from the thruster  body [1]. These thrusters are designed exclusively for use outside the atmosphere, where fuel iseasily ionized due to the fact they are operating in a near vacuum. They require special fuels, suchas ammonia or lithium, which can be easily excited. The force generated by these units is alsoextremely small, with perhaps only a few micrograms of fuel ejected per-second. For space vesselsa lack of power is often acceptable because of the excellent efficiency this technology provides [2].The goal of this project is the development of an ion thruster that can produce meaningful thrust inatmosphere at normal pressures. For this to be achieved a shaped ionized path must be created in theair so that high current pulses may be delivered through the air. These pulses will plasmerise the air and allow it to be ejected from the thruster electrically. The lightning arc drawing conceptdeveloped at Canterbury University is ideally suited to this application and investigations will focuson its adaptation to propulsion systems.
2.THEORY OF OPERATION2.1 Concept of the In-Atmosphere Ion Thruster
In order to overcome the limitations of current ion thruster technologies in-atmosphere a method of ionizing the air to a degree where significant force can be applied to it electrically must be found.This project combines the lightning arc drawing concept with plasma coils to achieve this. Ionizedair created by a lightning arc drawing is subjected to a powerful magnetic pulse created by a plasmacoil, which exerts both magnetic and, to a lesser extent, Lorentz forces on the air molecules. Figure2.1 illustrates this concept.Figure 2.1 – Illustration of a basic in-atmosphere ion thruster In the ultimate realization of the thruster, the plasma coil will be replaced with a conducting planeand the ionized air will be used as the plasma coil. When current begins to flow in the ionized air it plasmerises and becomes highly conductive. The resulting current pulse induces and opposingcurrent in the conducting plane and the interaction of the magnetic fields created by these twocurrents creates a force repelling the plasmerised air from the conductor [3]. This is illustrated infig. 2.2.Figure 2.2 – Illustration of conducting ion path thruster 3

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