The University of Michigan
Department of Aerospace Engineering
| Plasmadynamics & Electric Propulsion Laboratory |
PEPL Research Projects
Nanosatellite Thrusters
project personnel: Tim Collard, Frans Ebersohn, JP Sheehan, and Benjamin Longmier
previous personnel: Ingrid Goglio
project sponsors:

Figure 1. CAT firing with Xenon.

Figure 2. The CAT assembly in the vacuum chamber.


Development, laboratory experiments, and flight testing of propulsion systems is essential for the future of nanosatellites. Highly efficient propulsion systems enable new missions such as improved operation in Earth orbit, lunar surveying, and interplanetary exploration. Nanosatellites also serve as an inexpensive test bed for new propulsion technologies which can be scaled for larger missions. Among these new technologies are magnetic nozzles, new propellants (iodine, water), and new propellant feed systems.


Performance measurements of CAT will be found with a micro-newton thrust stand designed at PEPL. Plume measurements are made using the the Langmuir probe, retarding potential analyzer, and emissive probe diagnostics at PEPL. Simulations of the CAT thruster will also be performed with a newly developed quasi-one-dimensional particle-in-cell code.


Preliminary experiments have generated plasma first light. Measurements of magnetic fields generated by custom permanent magnets using a Gaussmeter agree well with simulations. Materials compatability testing with iodine propellant has been completed and propellant tank stress testing is underway.


Selected Relevant Publications

  1. Sheehan, J.P., Collard, T.A., Longmier, B.W., and Goglio, I.M., "New Low-Power Plasma Thruster for Nanosatellites", AIAA 2014-3914 , 50th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference, Cleveland, OH, July 28-30, 2014.
  2. Sheehan, J.P., Longmier, B.W., Reese, I., Collard, T., Ebersohn, F.H., Dale, E.T., Wachs, B.N., Ostermann, M.E., "Initial Experiments of a New Permanent Magnet Helicon Thruster", Presentation at IEEE International Conference on Plasma Science, Washington, D.C., May 25-29, 2014.
  3. Collard, T., Sheehan, J.P., and Longmier, B.W., "Development of Novel Propellant Feed Systems for the CubeSat Ambipolar Thruster", Poster at 2014 University of Michigan Engineering Graduate Symposium, Ann Arbor, MI, November 14, 2014.
  4. Ebersohn, F.H., Sheehan, J.P., Longmier, B.W., and Shebalin, J.V., "Quasi-one-dimensional code for particle-in-cell simulation of magnetic nozzle expansion", AIAA 2014-4027 , 50th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference, Cleveland, OH, July 28-30, 2014.
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