Immersed Finite Element Particle-In-Cell Simulations of Ion Propulsion

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Virginia Tech


A new particle-in-cell algorithm was developed for plasma simulations involving complex boundary conditions. The new algorithm is based on the three-dimensional immersed finite element method which is developed in this thesis, and a modified legacy particle-in-cell code. The model also applies a new meshing technique that separates the field solution mesh from the particle pushing mesh in order to increase the computational eciency of the model.

The new simulation model is used in two applications of great importance to the development of ion propulsion technology: the ion optics performance and the interaction between spacecraft and the ion thruster. The first application is ion optics simulations. Simulations are performed to investigate ion optics plasma flow for a whole subscale NEXT ion optics. The operating conditions modeled cover the entire cross-over to perveance limit range. The results of the ion optics simulations demonstrated good agreement with the available experimental data. The second application is ion thruster plume simulations. Simulations are performed to investigate ion thruster plume - spacecraft interactions for the Dawn spacecraft. Plume induced contaminations on the solar array are studied for a variety of ion thruster configurations including multiple thruster firings.



Electric Propulsion, Ion Thruster, Finite element method, Particle-in-Cell