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Asteria Project Updates

The goal of this project is to produce a solid-fuel adamantane plasma thruster to be implemented on a satellite design. The overview of this project can be divided into four main stages of modeling and hardware testing . A small plasma thruster will be constructed and placed in a vacuum chamber to produce a plasma bloom. We hope to run a numerical study to increase the efficiency of the thruster, research the effectiveness of adamantane as a fuel source, and eventually produce a full-scale working propulsion device.

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January/Feburary 2023

Initial Thruster Built

Two simplistic experimental thruster designs were created using two metal washers and clear plastic tubing. We attempted to minimize the output orifice to the best degree to ensure a plasma bloom could be seen. The plastic tubing is used to house a small amount of adamantane to limit contamination in the chamber.

March 2023

We have Plasma!

The image to the right is the first test of the smaller thruster design. There was a large amount of outgassing from the wires and our office is still too large to clearly see the plasma bloom produced by the adamantane. We believe the chamber should be pumped down to 50mTorr to better our results. 

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April 2023

Thrust Test

By repositioning the wires inside the chamber and pumping down to 50mTorr we have been able to limit some of the outgassing. Additionally, we have further shrunk the output orifice for a more defined plasma bloom. To test for thrust we have positioned a small piece of aluminum foil strung from a protractor to measure displacement. Due to the small size of the thruster, the displacement is currently too small to measure with our current setup. Efforts are being made to devise a way to measure the pixel displacement in the videos collected from each test.  

September 2023

Measuring Thrust

We have successfully measured the thrust created by our prototype by attaching a piece of reflective aluminum to the end of our pendulum, allowing a laser to be deflected when plasma is being emitted. After running a number of tests, the displacement indicates that our thruster is outputting 18 ± 4 μN of thrust. The next steps for a more accurate measurement are to construct a test stand with the thruster mounted on the pendulum.

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October 2023

Presentation at GEC

We had the opportunity to send two undergraduate students to give a talk at the Gaseous Electronics Conference. Here we were able to present our thrust results, discuss our plans for Cubsat integration, and get advice from numerous people in the field. We are thankful for this opportunity and hope to continue to attend these conferences.

November 2023

Exploring CubeSat Integration and Redesigning our Thruster

As we plan to move to a new facility to improve our vacuum we have begun experimenting with various forms of steel plugs and membranes to ensure no propellant loss during spin-up. In addition, we have begun constructing a new thruster design with the help of 3D modeling and finalized the electronics for our new inverse pendulum thrust stand. 

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January/February
Continued work on thruster design and Langmuir Probe

 

We are currently testing new designs for our thruster, including a separate containment for our propellant and an integrated membrane to ensure no propellant is lost during the pump down. We are also removing the thruster's front panel and the small orifice to ensure no ions bounce back into the chamber and thrust is lost. 

While our new thruster design is in development we have been using an external propellant chamber alongside our old thruster design. (as shown in the image to the left) 

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March
Presentation at the AIAA Conference

We are pleased to share the outstanding achievement of Autumn Zaretsky and Cameron Coen, two freshmen enrolled in the USC Astronautical Engineering (ASTE) program. They were presented third place in their respective section at the AIAA regional conference. Their noteworthy contribution involves the development of a custom Langmuir probe, which has significantly advanced our understanding and characterization of the plasma environment of our system.

Next Steps

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We plan to move to a new vacuum facility soon where we plan on taking direct thrust measurements using the stage 2 thruster design and an inverse pendulum thrust stand. From here we will characterize the effects of voltage and current change on our thrust measurements. 

In addition, our abstract was recently accepted into the IEPC 2024 conference. We hope to present our current findings and discuss more about the benefits of our design for CubeSats. 

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