On the performance of electrohydrodynamic propulsion

Kento Masuyama, Steven R. H. Barrett


Partially ionized fluids can gain net momentum under an electric field, as charged particles undergo momentum-transfer collisions with neutral molecules in a phenomenon termed an ionic wind. Electrohydrodynamic (EHD) thrusters generate thrust by using two or more electrodes to ionize the ambient fluid and create an electric field. We characterize the performance of EHD thrusters of single- (SS) and dual-stage (DS) configurations. SS thrusters refer to a geometry using one emitter electrode, an air gap and a collector electrode with large radius of curvature relative to the emitter. DS thrusters add a collinear intermediate electrode. SS thruster performance was shown to be consistent with a one-dimensional theory. Increasing the gap length requires a higher voltage for thrust onset, generates less thrust per input voltage, generates more thrust per input current and most importantly generates more thrust per input power. A thrust-to-power ratio as high as approximately 100 N kW−1 was obtained. DS thrusters were shown to be more effective than their SS counterparts at producing current, leading to a smaller total voltage necessary for producing equal thrust. However, losses involving ion collection at the intermediate electrode led to reduced thrust-per-power compared with the SS thruster of equal length.

  • Received October 22, 2012.
  • Accepted March 5, 2013.
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