Design And Development of a 30-GHz Microwave Electrothermal Thruster

Open Access
Capalungan, Erica E.
Graduate Program:
Aerospace Engineering
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
July 27, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Michael Matthew Micci, Thesis Advisor
  • Sven G Bilen, Thesis Advisor
  • Microwave Electrothermal Thruster
  • MET
  • electric propulsion
Research has been conducted on the microwave electrothermal thruster at The Pennsylvania State University since the 1980’s. Each subsequent thruster incorporated modifications that resulted in improvements in thruster performance compared to previous generations. Operational frequencies evaluated thus far include 2.45 GHz, 7.5 GHz, 8 GHz, and 14.5 GHz. As each thruster increased in operational frequency, plasmas have been ignited with successively lower amounts of input power. With higher frequency and lower power requirements, the physical sizes of the thruster and the power supply have been reduced. Decreased size results in a lighter propulsion system, which is ideal for space missions. This thesis concerns the design and development of a thruster operating at 30 GHz. Electromagnetic modeling was used in the design of the thruster to determine the optimal input antenna size and length. A 2.4-mm antenna size was chosen with a length that is flush with the bottom of the cavity. Modeling also aided in the understanding of how machining accuracy of the cavity radius affects thruster performance. The modeling results indicated that radius inaccuracies on the order of ±0.1 mm result in mode distortion, shifting of the resonant frequency, lowered electric field strength, and poor power transfer to the cavity. The experimental setup for the thruster system, propellant system, electromagnetic system, and pressure system are discussed. The 30-GHz MET has an approximate radius of 0.4 cm and height of 1.4 cm. The expected power requirement for plasma ignition is 5–10 watts. Scaling down the thruster size resulted in different adapters and enhanced pressure sealing requirements when compared to previous METs. Initial testing is being performed at a pressure of 30 Torr using helium as the propellant. A network analyzer was used to determine the exact resonant frequency of the cavity and to determine the power coupling to the cavity. The exact resonant frequency of the cavity is 29.939 GHz. The initial setup of the thruster indicated a power coupling of 6 dB while reducing the length of the antenna resulted in enhanced power coupling of at least 25 dB. The fabrication and testing of this thruster gave rise to many design improvements that are also discussed.