Evaluation of high-frequency ion thruster parameters

Thermal engines, electric propulsion and power plants for flying vehicles


Gordeev S. V.*, Kanev S. V.**, Suvorov M. O.***, Khartov S. A.****

Moscow Aviation Institute (National Research University), 4, Volokolamskoe shosse, Moscow, А-80, GSP-3, 125993, Russia

*e-mail: svyatoslavgordeev@mail.ru
**e-mail: k208mai@mail.ru
***e-mail: maxwell2005@yandex.ru
****e-mail: skhartov@ya.ru


There is an increasing need for low Earth orbiting satellites for various purposes. Such satellites are cheaper to put into orbit (for altitudes 160−300 km), and can ensure high-resolution for Earth observation. However, lowering orbit altitude means that atmosphere gases concentration and the aerodynamic drag force increase causing decrease in the spacecraft orbit lifetime. Electric propulsion thrusters could be used to counteract the aerodynamic drag. For example, the European Space Agency spacecraft GOCE operating in a near-circular orbit with altitudes of 250−280 km for more than four years used the ion thruster T5 of QinetiQ Company for aerodynamic drag compensation. This thruster used onboard xenon as propellant. When the whole amount of propellant was consumed, the vehicle began lowering and burnt in atmosphere. Application of atmosphere gases as propellant may substantially increase lifetime of low orbit spacecraft.

This work focuses on the operation of high-frequency ion thrusters operating with atmosphere gases as propellant. Such thrusters may be used to counteract the aerodynamic drag of low Earth orbit spacecraft. Work processes in the ionization chamber of ion thruster were modeled. A mixture of atomic and molecular nitrogen and oxygen was considered as a propellant. During ionization each of these gases partially transforms in singly charged ions. The thruster characteristics, namely its thrust and consumed power were analyzed and compared to characteristics of the spacecraft from the viewpoint of its aerodynamic drag and solar panels power.

The results of this work demonstrate the possibility of creation a low orbit spacecraft with high-frequency ion thruster operating with atmosphere gases as propellant to counteract the aerodynamic drag.


low Earth orbit spacecraft, aerodynamic braking, high-frequency ion thruster


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