The University of Michigan
Department of Aerospace Engineering
| Plasmadynamics & Electric Propulsion Laboratory |
Plasma Diagnostics

High-speed Imaging

Fast shutter (down to <400 ns) continuous CMOS high-resolution single-photon sensitive (with image intensifier) imaging with back-to-back frame rates up to 1 million-frames/s with wide, telephoto, and microscopic optics from 18 mm to >400 mm.

Figure 1. FASTCAM-X 1024 PCI schematic showing attachment of the F-mount adaptor that connects to one of PEPL's Nikon Nikkor lenses. (From Photron 1024 PCI manual,

PEPL operates two Photron FASTCAM systems, the 1024 PCI (Figure 1) and the SA5 (Figure 2) with memory buffers of 6 GB and 32 GB respectively. Each camera's native resolution is 1024 pixels by 1024 pixels, and this resolution is attainable at frame rates of 1,000 frames/s (1024 PCI) and 7,000 frames/s (SA5), with maximum frame rates of 109,500 frames/s and 1,000,000 frames/s respectively at reduced resolutions. The non-intrusive nature of this imaging diagnostic combined with its excellent temporal and spatial resolution is well suited to the turbulent and dynamic plasma discharges of Hall thrusters and other electric propulsion devices. In addition, this diagnostic has played a key role in understanding the operation of the micropropulsion project, NanoFET, providing detailed imaging of individual particle trajectories including liftoff, acceleration, and ejection. An assortment of Nikon Nikkor lenses compatible with PEPL's FASTCAMs enable wide-field, thruster close-up, as well as microscopic nanoparticle imaging of various rapid processes important to the operation of advanced electric propulsion devices under development. Coupled with other high-speed diagnostics—such as the HDLP—simultaneous imaging captures unique insight into complex plasma and particle dynamics that helps in both discovering new phenomena and physics as well as validating the different measurements.

Figure 2. Photograph of the FASTCAM SA5 with 50 mm Nikon Nikkor lens. Larger camera size (vs. 1024 PCI) houses on-board camera memory of 32 GB (with PC communication and control via Gb-ethernet). (From Photron SA5 product brochure,


Selected Relevant Publications

  1. Liu, T., Drenkow, B., Musinski, L., Gallimore, A., Gilchrist, B., and Doan, A., "Developmental Progress of the Nanoparticle Field Extraction Thruster," AIAA-2008-5096, 44th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference, Hartford, CT, July 20-23, 2008.
  2. Lobbia, R. B., Liu, T. M., and Gallimore, A. D., "Correlating Time-Resolved Optical and Langmuir Probe Measurements of Hall Thruster Dynamics," SPS-III-36, 6th Modeling and Simulation / 4th Liquid Propulsion / 3rd Spacecraft Propulsion Joint Subcommittee JANNAF Meeting, Orlando, FL., Dec. 2008.
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