Characterization of a Tri-Gas Thruster
Student: Vanessa Dorado
University of Texas at El Paso
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Degree Level: Master of Science
Internship Site: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama
Mentor: Kevin Pedersen
Abstract: Historically, spacecraft reaction control systems have primarily used cold gas thrusters because of their inherent simplicity and reliability. However, cold gas thrusters typically have a low specific impulse. It has been determined that a higher specific impulse can be achieved by passing a monopropellant fluid mixture through a catalyst bed prior to expulsion through the thruster nozzle. This research analyzes the potential efficiency improvements from using tri-gas: a mixture of hydrogen, oxygen, and an inert gas, in this case helium. Passing tri-gas through a platinum catalyst causes the hydrogen and oxygen to become reactive, ultimately heating the exiting fluid and generating a higher specific impulse. The goal of this project was to optimize the thruster performance by characterizing the effects of several system components. The performance effects were examined by varying catalyst types, catalyst lengths, and initial catalyst temperatures. Additional testing would utilize a hydrogen rich tri-gas mixture or characterize the performance effects of firing in a vacuum chamber for future applications and advancement in the field of green propellants.
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