University of California, Irvine
This project will reproduce the electrohydrodynamic phenomena taking place in electrospray thrusters by constructing and numerically solving a model of cone-jets with realistic boundary conditions. The ultimate goal is to produce a modeling tool for guiding the design and optimizing the operation of electrospray thrusters. The key innovation is the inclusion, for the first time, of physics key to the operation of electrospray thrusters, namely ion evaporation and energy dissipation. Model results will be validated with experimental measurements of relevant electrospray characteristics.
The interest in smallsats has exploded in the last two decades due to advancements in electronics, power and fabrication techniques, combined with the significant lower mission costs associated with the fabrication and launch of these platforms as secondary payloads. However, the current absence of advanced micropropulsion is preventing the use of smallsats in missions of high value to NASA such as spacecraft constellations, formation flying, insertion into high altitude orbits, interplanetary voyage, etc. The minimum thrust and power at which electrospray propulsion can operate, its high efficiency, the small footprint per emitter, and the easiness for scale up, make electrospray propulsion a technology ideal for primary propulsion and attitude control of cubesats and larger smallsats. This project will produce the fundamental knowledge needed to fulfill its potential.