A liquefied gas thruster for a micro satellite

Joubert, Adriaan Jacobus (2007-03)

Thesis (MScEng (Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


The focus of this project was to investigate the working of a liquefied gas micro satellite thruster. An introduction is given in which the significance of the project in relation to the literature is stated. The objectives of the project are also stated. In the literature survey the historical development and design specifications of some relevant thruster systems is discussed. An experimental model was designed and built to test the working of a thruster system. Attention is also given to the measurement and calibration techniques used to obtain experimental data. A computer program was written to simulate the thruster system. The experimental set-up was designed so that an accumulator could be charged with liquid butane from a storage tank. The accumulator was charged with 13 ml of liquid butane, which was heated and then exhausted through a nozzle. Copper mesh was placed in the accumulator to improve the heat transfer to the butane vapour before it was exhausted through the nozzle. A cantilever beam was used to measure the thrust of the system. The system was tested under atmospheric conditions of 100 000 Pa as well as under vacuum conditions of 20 Pa. Two nozzles were also tested: nozzle-1 with a throat diameter of 1 mm and an exit diameter of 5 mm and nozzle-2 with a throat diameter of 1 mm and an exit diameter of 1.6 mm. A computer program was written to simulate the flow of the butane vapour through the nozzle, as well as the complex two-phase behaviour of the butane in the accumulator. Traditional gas dynamic theory was used to model the flow through the nozzle. The transient behaviour of the system was modelled to predict the rate of liquid to vapour mass transfer in the accumulator. Additionally, the computer program was developed to simulate the system with copper mesh placed in the accumulator. From the experimental results it was shown that the addition of copper mesh in the accumulator improved the total thrust achieved with a 13 ml charge of liquid butane by more than 50 %. Under atmospheric conditions shockwaves were present in both of the two nozzles tested. Nozzle-2 showed an increase of 91 % in the total thrust achieved over a 5 second burst compared to the total thrust achieved using nozzle-1. With no copper mesh in the accumulator and using nozzle-1 a peak thrust of 39 mN was achieved under atmospheric conditions while under vacuum conditions a peak thrust of 495 mN was achieved. This resulted in a total thrust of 0.365 Ns under atmospheric conditions and 4.88 Ns under vacuum conditions with a 13 ml charge of liquid butane. Using the total thrust achieved the specific impulse of the system was calculated as 5 seconds under atmospheric conditions and 67.5 seconds under vacuum conditions with no mesh in the accumulator and using nozzle-1. The theoretical model compared well with the experimental results except when nozzle-1 was modelled under atmospheric conditions. Under vacuum conditions the results obtained from the theoretical model compared well with the experimental results using both of the nozzles. In the modelling of the mesh in the accumulator an overall heat transfer factor was incorporated into the model to take into account the uncertainty of the heat transfer area as well as the overall heat transfer coefficient. The theoretical model and experimental test results are discussed and thereafter conclusions are also drawn. There are also recommendations made for future work that could be done in the further development of a liquefied gas micro satellite thruster system. It is recommended that a “resistojet” type thruster should be tested at the University of Stellenbosch and that further testing be done with mesh in the accumulator to find the optimum amount of mesh that should be placed in the accumulator.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/1549
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