Miniature Ion Thrusters: A Review of Modern Technologies and Mission Capabilities

TitleMiniature Ion Thrusters: A Review of Modern Technologies and Mission Capabilities
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsWirz, Richard E.
Conference NameInternational Electric Propulsion Conference
PublisherElectric Rocket Propulsion Society
Conference LocationHyogo-Kobe, Japan
Other NumbersIEPC-2015-275
AbstractThere are inherent challenges to ion thruster miniaturization, but many current thrusters exhibit desirable performance. Depending on mission requirements, modern ion thrusters provide thruster capabilities that are attractive for missions for both large and small spacecraft. In addition to providing (1) high specific impulse, Isp, (~1000 – 3000 s), these thrusters can provide (2) very precise thrust and impulse bits, (3) low disturbance thrust, and (4) low contamination and spacecraft interaction potential. These capabilities are attractive for high dV exploration and orbit/inclination change missions, recision orbit maintenance, formation flying, or precision pointing/control. Many thruster options exist that employ RF, microwave, and DC ring cusp discharges. These thrusters use low contamination propellants such as xenon, but may also use highly-storable propellants such as iodine.

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