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Design, manufacture, and testing of a micro gridded ion thruster for dual-mode operations
Group Members
Ed Flanagan, Polly Harte, Harry Page, James Proughten, Amir Vafabakhsh, Ed Wyatt
Dr Angelo Grubišić, Dr Scott Walker
The demand for electric propulsion systems in spacecrafts is steadily growing, due to its higher efficiency and longer lifetime than that of conventional chemical propulsion. Gridded Ion Thrusters are a form of electric propulsion that use charged conductive grids to accelerate a plasma to very high speeds. This gives very low thrust settings, which makes them ideal for station keeping and slow orbit raising operations. Usually a Gridded Ion Thruster will be tailored to satisfy just one of these operations due to a performance trade-off. However this project sets out to create a dual-mode set-up where the thruster can execute both operations.

The aim of this project was to develop, manufacture, and test a miniature ‘dual-mode’ Gridded Ion Thruster, for use on communication satellites. The miniature scaling is due to the growing demand for micro-Newton thrust levels for smaller spacecrafts; this can be difficult to achieve due to the scaling issues that can occur. High thrust with a lower efficiency mode is commissioned while the satellite is transferring through a geostationary transfer orbit. This will minimise the transfer time meaning earlier revenue making for the operator but is operating at lower efficiency. Low Thrust mode is used for orbit maintenance and attitude keeping since it relatively requires much less thrust.

The development process included CAD, CFD, and FEA on a range of properties using SolidWorks, COMSOL Multiphysics, and IBSimu, as well as physical testing in the university Electric Jet Propulsion Lab. Manufacturing was mostly completed by the university EDMC, whilst some technical products and postmanufacturing treatments were outsourced.
Visible light.
Thermal infrared.
Thermal infrared
MX-SEPT in the vacuum chamber.
Simulation of microwave field strength and ECR region.
Simulation of magnetic field lines and ECR region.
Exploded view of MX-EPT.
Cutaway view of MX-EPT.