A coupled performance and thermal model for radio-frequency gridded ion thrusters*
University of Southampton, Southampton, Hampshire, SO17 1BJ, UK
Received: 16 April 2016
Received in final form: 25 July 2016
Published online: 1 November 2016
Recently proposed space missions such as Darwin, eLISA and NGGM have encouraged the development of electric propulsion thrusters capable of operating in the micro-Newton (μN) thrust range. To meet these requirements, radio frequency (RF) gridded-ion thrusters need to be scaled down to a few centimeters in size. Due to the small size of these thrusters, it is important to accurately determine the thermal and performance parameters. To achieve this, a multi-physics performance model has been developed, composed of plasma discharge, 2D axisymmetric ion extraction, 3D electromagnetic and RF circuit models. The plasma discharge model itself is represented using 0D global, 2D axisymmetric and 3D molecular neutral gas, and Boltzmann electron transport sub-models. A 3D thermal model is introduced to determine the temperature distribution for various throttle points, using as inputs the plasma and electromagnetic field heating values obtained from the performance model. This also allows the validation of the performance model itself. Additionally, we analyze the effect the thruster’s temperatures play on the plasma properties/performance and vice versa. The model is based on the RIT 3.5 thruster developed for the NGGM mission geometry and predicts the RIT 3.5 experimental data within approximately 10%.
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