Automated Integrated Robotic Systems for Diagnostics and Test of Electric and Micropropulsion Thrusters

Abstract

An integrated microcontroller-based data acquisition and robotic actuation suite comprising digital electronics, microcontrollers, custom-made hardware, and accessorial software for diagnostics, and characterization of electric propulsion thrusters in a large vacuum space environment simulator is designed, built, and tested. The components of the characterization suite have been aggregated into modular add-on units for rapid rearrangement and easy customization to suit various applications. The modules include a force calibration system for accurate thrust measurements in various thrust stands, and spatially resolved measurements in a multiprobe array comprising Langmuir and Faraday probes for plume diagnostics of plasma thrusters. Plume and thrust characteristics of a miniaturized Hall-type thruster were successfully measured in situ, enabling users to vary process controls and efficiently optimize the thruster performance. The system revealed a further potential for real-time flight mission diagnostics and control.

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