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aktualisiert am 15. Mai 2022

ISBN 9783843949538

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978-3-8439-4953-8, Reihe Raumfahrt

Francesco Romano
RF Helicon Plasma Thruster for an Atmosphere-Breathing Electric Propulsion System (ABEP)

165 Seiten, Dissertation Universität Stuttgart (2021), Hardcover, A5

Zusammenfassung / Abstract

This dissertation deals with the development of Atmosphere-Breathing Electric Propulsion (ABEP) technology, that can enable propellant-less continuous orbiting in very low Earth orbits (VLEO). It uses an intake in front of the spacecraft to collect the residual atmosphere and deliver it to an electric thruster as propellant, finally utilizing the cause of aerodynamic drag as source of thrust. A literature review is presented to give the ABEP state-of-the-art of the technology and the most relevant performance parameters are highlighted. The application of ABEP in VLEO is investigated by applying analytical equations based on atmospheric models and intake efficiencies based on the outcome of this work, and available state-of-the-art thruster efficiencies. Such analysis derives the collectible propellant flow, the aerodynamic drag, and the power required to fully compensate the drag. The case of GOCE using an ABEP system is presented, as well as its application in very low Mars orbit (VLMO).

The intake and the thruster are investigated and designed within this dissertation.

Three ABEP intakes designs are hereby presented, based on gas-surface-interaction prop- erties. Two are based on fully diffuse reflections, delivering collection efficiencies ηc < 0.5 and one based on fully specular reflections of ηc < 0.95. Their sensitivity to misalignment with the flow is analysed as well highlighting the specular design of being more robust compared to the diffuse one by maintaining relatively high ηc even for large angles. The ABEP thruster is based on contactless technology: there is no component in direct contact with the plasma, and a quasi-neutral plasma jet is produced. This enables operation with multiple propellant species (also aggressive such as atomic oxygen in VLEO) and densities, and does not require a neutraliser. The thruster is based helicon plasma discharges to provide higher efficiency compared to inductive ones.