Performance characterization of a high efficiency gas-fed pulsed plasma thruster

J. K. Ziemer, E. A. Cubbin, E. Y. Choueiri, Daniel Birx

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

24 Scopus citations


We present a characterization of the performance of a recently developed gas-fed pulsed plasma thruster (GF-PPT) at low discharge energies (≤5 J). The impulsive thrust measurements were made using EPPDyL’s high-accuracy interferometric microthrust stand. The thruster is best suited for small satellite applications and is operated in an unsteady pulsed mode (3 μs/pulse). It is the result of a series of design iterations aimed at achieving the highest thrust efficiencies for unsteady electromagnetic acceleration at low discharge energies. The use of advanced nonlinear magnetic switching technology, which insured a total system inductance of 3-4 nH, combined with an electrode geometry and radial gas injection that favor low profile losses, yielded a total efficiency of 50% at 5 J with argon (at an impulse bit of 32 μNs and a mass bit of.2 μg/shot). This is the highest measured efficiency ever reported for a PPT at this low energy level. Moreover, the low mass utilization efficiency problem that plagued previous gas-fed pulsed thrusters was solved using a scheme based on an allsolid- state modulator with IGBT commutation that allows high repetition rate pulsing of the discharge (5000 pps) developed at SRL Inc. The scheme results in a mass utilization efficiency close to 100%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - 1997
Event33rd Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit, 1997 - Seattle, United States
Duration: Jul 6 1997Jul 9 1997


Other33rd Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit, 1997
Country/TerritoryUnited States

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Aerospace Engineering


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