Flight Pass of Plasma Thruster Under Microgravity


Successful Flight Demonstration of Plasma Thruster Under Microgravity

Source: Space Daily

February 27, 2001

Tokyo - A group of Japanese rocket scientists led by Dr. Satori from the Advanced Technology Institute Ltd. and Hokkaido Institute Technology have successfully demonstrated the flight of a miniature plasma thruster in a simulated space environment.

This successful experiment was able to show that its thrust was generated effectively in the mechanism of a miniature plasma thruster.

Mr. Mae, Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Sugiki (Astro Research Corporation), Dr. Satori, a few students (Hokkaido Institute of Technology) implemented this flight performance in Japan Microgravity Center (JAMIC), Kamisunagawa in Hokkaido.

This demonstration was funded by Japan's New Enegry Development Organization as a part of the project, "Flight model development of small Microwave Engine for satellite attitude control".

Microwave Engine is one of several engines for small satellites, called electric propulsion. Its unique feature is a much simpler configuration compared to traditional electric Ion propulsion systems.

The plasma thruster used in this demonstration utilized the same thrust generating mechanism as Microwave Engine, thus the flight demonstration under microgravity conditions generated by free falling validated its operational performance. The current project aims to complete the development of a Microwave Engine by March 2001.

In general, electric Ion propulsion has a much higher performance than chemical propulsion systems in propellant efficiency. However, its big difference from the conventional rocket engine in the mechanism made the usefulness of the electric propulsion ambiguous because of the small thrust generated by the electric propulsion.

This successful experiment is said to be the first flight demonstration of a plasma thruster.

Lately, space development has focused on large satellites such as GEO broadcasting and communication satellites, and on small satellite constellations in LEO orbits to support mobile communication networks. In Japan, research is being undertaken to build a new-generation of multifunction micro satellites that would have a far greater degree of redunancy compared to large satellites.

However, in LEO orbits atmospheric drag is so large that small electric IOn propulsion is a critical technology to maintain orbital positions and prolong satellite operating life times.

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