Project

Novel Materials for Scaling Electrospray Thruster Arrays


A COMSOL model of electric potential and
streamlines in the extraction region of an electrospray emitter.

project personnel
Collin Whittaker, Benjamin Jorns

principal investigator
Benjamin Jorns

previous personnel
Pete Dahl, Angela Kimber

affiliated personnel
Henry Sodano

Of all modern electric propulsion devices, electrospray thrusters are particularly attractive as they have the highest power efficiency, a widely throttleable specific impulse and the potential for having the highest thrust density. These thrusters are based on electrospray technology where nano-sized conductive droplets, solvated ions or both, are emitted from a Taylor cone singularity, and accelerated to high velocities through an electrostatic field that is created between an extracting electrode and an ionic liquid emitter. The last decade of research on these colloidal thrusters has been focused on integrating micro- and nanofabrication technology to develop arrays of electrospray emitters. These devices create very precise thrust on the order of ~10uN, and have been demonstrated to work with high (90%) electric conversion efficiency. The ability to reliably and optimally scale electrospray arrays in size could fundamentally advance space flight technology and in principle, electrospray arrays could go beyond micropropulsion applications to high-powered (>50kW) interplanetary human exploration mission objectives.

Despite the progression in fabrication techniques and electrospray thruster development, attempts at scaled-up arrays are stymied by alignment and manufacturing tolerance issues, leading to chemical degradation and arcing incidents. In partnership with the Materials Science Engineering Department, PEPL is investigating the use of a combination of novel materials and new architectures to attempt to scale these devices in size by incorporating new ‘self-healing’ flexible polymers and conductive materials that could mitigate such limitations and lead to the development of large-scale electrospray thrusters for high performance, deep-space missions.

Exploratory efforts using commercial electromagnetic software are used to numerically validate how the use of new materials and geometries affect the electric field, as well as the voltage required to maintain the Taylor instability and create a monodisperse, consistent electrospray of droplets or ions. Once numerical simulations confirm that the design and emitter materials support operation of the thruster, experimental verification of the results will commence later this year.

Selected Publications


  • Dielectric Materials with Deposited Electrode Layers for Electrospray Arrays

    Kimber, A., Jorns, B., and Sodano H.

    54th AIAA/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference, Cincinnati, OH, AIAA-2018-4653, July 9-11, 2018

  • Data-Driven Scaling Laws for Electrospray Plume Divergence from a Capillary Tube

    Dahl, P.N., Kimber, A.M., and Jorns, B.

    AIAA Propulsion and Energy 2019 Forum, Indianapolis, IN, AIAA-2019-3901, August 19-22, 2019

  • Uncertainty Quantification of Electrospray Thruster Array Lifetime

    Jorns, B.A., Gorodetsky, A., Lasky, I., Kimber, A., Dahl, P., St. Peter, A., and Dressler, R.

    36th International Electric Propulsion Conference, Vienna, Austria, IEPC-2019-317, 2019

  • Future Directions for Electric Propulsion Research

    Dale, Ethan; Jorns, Benjamin; Gallimore, Alec

    , https://www.mdpi.com/2226-4310/7/9/120/, August 17, 2020

  • Quantifying Uncertainty in the Scaling Laws of Porous Electrospray Emitters

    Collin B. Whittaker , Alex Gorodetsky and Benjamin Jorns

    VIRTUAL, https://arc.aiaa.org/doi/abs/10.2514/6.2020-3615, August 17, 2020

  • Robust Design of Electrospray Emitters

    Alex A. Gorodetsky, Collin B. Whittaker, Audelia Szulman and Benjamin Jorns

    AIAA Propulsion and Energy 2021 Forum, https://pepl.engin.umich.edu/pdf/2021_AIAA_PE_Gorodetsky.pdf, August 2021

  • Model Inference from Electrospray Thruster Array Tests

    Collin B. Whittaker, Alex A. Gorodetsky and Benjamin A. Jorns

    AIAA SciTech 2022, https://pepl.engin.umich.edu/pdf/2022_AIAA_ST_Whittaker.pdf, January 2022