Impulse and Performance Measurements of Electric Solid Propellant in a Laboratory Electrothermal Ablation-Fed Pulsed Plasma Thruster

Matthew S. Glascock, Joshua L. Rovey, Kurt A. Polzin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Electric solid propellants are advanced solid chemical rocket propellants that can be controlled (ignited, throttled and extinguished) through the application and removal of an electric current. This behavior may enable the propellant to be used in multimode propulsion systems utilizing the ablative pulsed plasma thruster. The performance of an electric solid propellant operating in an electrothermal ablation-fed pulsed plasma thruster was investigated using an inverted pendulum micro-newton thrust stand. The impulse bit and specific impulse of the device using the electric solid propellant were measured for short-duration test runs of 100 pulses and longer-duration runs to end-of-life, at energy levels of 5, 10, 15 and 20 J. Also, the device was operated using the current state-of-the-art ablation-fed pulsed plasma thruster propellant, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Impulse bit measurements for PTFE indicate 100 ± 20 µN-s at an initial energy level of 5 J, which increases linearly with energy by approximately 30 µN-s/J. Within the error of the experiment, measurements of the impulse bit for the electric solid propellant are identical to PTFE. Specific impulse when operating on PTFE is calculated to be about 450 s. It is demonstrated that a surface layer in the hygroscopic electric solid propellant is rapidly ablated over the first few discharges of the device, which decreases the average specific impulse relative to the traditional polytetrafluoroethylene propellant. Correcting these data by subtracting the early discharge ablation mass loss measurements yields a corrected electric solid propellant specific impulse of approximately 300 s.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number70
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Ablation-fed arc
  • Electric solid propellant
  • Electrothermal propulsion
  • Impulse measurement
  • Inverted pendulum thrust stand
  • Pulsed plasma thruster

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering


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