Our well-equipped laboratory provides all devices necessary for operation of RF ion thrusters. These are, in detail, a RF generator (RFG) for supply of the thruster coil with an alternating current, a mass flow controller (MFC) which ensures the propellant supply, high-voltage sources for electrostatic ion extraction and a electron source for beam neutralization. For performance measurement and data acquisition, a customized system was developed and built up, incoporating a real-time target machine. Furthermore, this target machine enables the automatic control of the thruster and allows the development and experimental verfication of new beam current control concepts.
Moreover, miscellaneous measurement devices for studying electromagnetic interference at the thruster are available.
Real-time measurement system
Data acqusition of all measurement and control values as well as control of the whole test setup in real-time is enabled by this system. In addition, script-controlled processing allows the implementation of new control concepts and evaluation of the thruster’s performance.
Vacuum pumping station
To allow for an operation under real, space-related conditions, a vacuum pumping station is required. For this purpose, two duran glas tubes with a volume of 180 and 120 litres are available. For vacuum generation, a turbomolecular pump with a suction power of 35000 l/h is used, allowing vacuum pressures in the area of 1E-7 mbar in the tube.
High-performance measurement devices
For accurate measurement of the inductively-coupled plasma discharge and the electrical peripherals for supplying th RF ion thruster, high-end measurement devices are used. These devices offer high temporal resolution of the occuring RF signals and can process high voltages and currents, as they typically appear in RF ion thrusters.