21 May 2013 Engineered plasma interactions for geomagnetic propulsion of ultra small satellites
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Abstract
Previous astrophysical studies have explained the orbital dynamics of particles that acquire a high electrostatic charge. In low Earth orbit, the charge collected by a microscopic particle or an ultra-small, low-mass satellite interacts with the geomagnetic field to induce the Lorentz force which, in the ideal case, may be exploited as a form of propellantless propulsion. Efficient mechanisms for negative and positive electrostatic charging of a so-called attosatellite are proposed considering material, geometry, and emission interactions with the ionosphere’s neutral plasma with characteristic Debye length. A novel model-based plasma physics study was undertaken to optimize the positive charge mechanism quantified by the system charge-to-mass ratio. In the context of the practical system design considered, a positive charge-to-mass ratio on the order of 1.9x10-9 C/kg is possible with maximum spacecraft potential equal to the sum of the kinetic energy of electrons from active field emission (+43V) and less than +5V from passive elements. The maximum positive potential is less than what is possible with negative electrostatic charging due to differences in thermal velocity and number density of electronic and ionic species. These insights are the foundation of a practical system design.
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Jeremy A. Palmer, Jeremy A. Palmer, Jeremiah J. Boerner, Jeremiah J. Boerner, Thomas P. Hughes, Thomas P. Hughes, Guy R. Bennett, Guy R. Bennett, } "Engineered plasma interactions for geomagnetic propulsion of ultra small satellites", Proc. SPIE 8739, Sensors and Systems for Space Applications VI, 87390X (21 May 2013); doi: 10.1117/12.2010789; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2010789
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