Microfabricated electrospray emitter arrays with integrated extractor and accelerator electrodes for the propulsion of small spacecraft
Microfabricated electrospray thrusters could revolutionize the spacecraft industry by providing efficient propulsion capabilities to micro and nano satellites (1–100 kg). We present the modeling, design, fabrication and characterization of a new generation of devices, for the first time integrating in the fabrication process individual accelerator electrodes capable of focusing and accelerating the emitted sprays. Integrating these electrodes is a key milestone in the development of this technology; in addition to increasing the critical performance metrics of thrust, specific impulse and propulsive efficiency, the accelerators enable a number of new system features such as power tuning and thrust vectoring and balancing. Through microfabrication, we produced high density arrays (213 emitters cm−2) of capillary emitters, assembling them at wafer-level with an extractor/accelerator electrode pair separated by micro-sandblasted glass. Through IV measurements, we could confirm that acceleration could be decoupled from the extraction of the spray—an important element towards the flexibility of this technology. We present the largest reported internally fed microfabricated arrays operation, with 127 emitters spraying in parallel, for a total beam of 10–30 μA composed by 95% of ions. Effective beam focusing was also demonstrated, with plume half-angles being reduced from approximately 30° to 15° with 2000 V acceleration. Based on these results, we predict, with 3000 V acceleration, thrust per emitter of 38.4 nN, specific impulse of 1103 s and a propulsive efficiency of 22% with <1 mW/emitter power consumption.