Date of Graduation

7-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Microelectronics-Photonics (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Graduate School

Advisor

Po-Hao Adam Huang

Committee Member

Larry Roe

Second Committee Member

Silke Spiesshoefer

Third Committee Member

Ingrid Fritsch

Fourth Committee Member

Rick Wise

Keywords

Electrostatic Thruster, High-density propellant, Tungsten, Xenon Difuloride

Abstract

The goal of this research was to support the development of a novel propulsion system for small satellites (<180 kg) and CubeSats. This was pursued by conducting a collection of studies that were designed to provide engineering data that would be critical in designing a functional prototype. The novel propulsion system was conceived by the author to provide best-in-class performance for the small satellite and CubeSat families of spacecraft. This context presents specific design requirements that the presented technology attempts to satisfy. The most critical among these is high density; the propellant was designed to be stored with high density and the thruster was designed to be as compact as possible. The propulsion system is composed of two primary elements, a propellant generator and a thruster. The propellant generator works by sublimating a solid crystal into vapor and then using this vapor to etch a dense metal. The resulting gaseous byproducts of this reaction are the propellant. This dissertation used xenon difluoride (XeF2) vapor to etch tungsten (W) which react to form xenon gas (Xe) and tungsten hexafluoride (WF6). This approach gave a theoretical propellant storage density 5.40 g/cm3; and 5.17 g/cm3 was demonstrated. The sublimation dynamics of the XeF2 were studied as a function of surface area and temperature and it was found to be suitable for the intended application due to its high effluence rate; that is, it sublimates fast enough to be useful. The sublimation rates are on the order of 10’s of µg/s. The etch rate of XeF2 on W was also studied and found to be suitably fast to provide useful amounts of reactants for use as a propellant, again on the order of 1’s of µg/s. The thruster is an electrostatic radio frequency (RF) ion thruster design and is manufactured with Low Temperature Co-Fired Ceramic (LTCC) materials system and manufacturing technology. Manufacturing samples of the thruster were built at the University of Arkansas in July 2015 and tested at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in May 2018. Testing validated the viability of the LTCC thruster and provided valuable information on how to improve the thruster’s design.

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