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Proceedings Paper

Micropropulsion using a Nd:YAG microchip laser
Author(s): David A. Gonzales; Robert P. Baker
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Paper Abstract

Small, lightweight, low power solid state and semiconductor lasers are enabling the development of a new class of thruster systems for micro- and nanosatellites. These devices generate thrust by laser ablation of a solid propellant using on-board lasers and permit small satellites to perform maneuvers such as orbit maintenance, precision pointing, and formation flying. In this work we present a concept for micropropulsion called the microchip laser thruster (MLT) that is based on laser ablation by a passively Q-switched Nd:YAG microchip laser. The microchip laser enables on-board ablation by sub-ns, high peak power, high repetition rate Gaussian pulses. A propellant feed concept is proposed that consists of a cylindrically shaped solid propellant and a single drive motor. Based on measurements of single pulse laser ablation in aluminum, copper and indium targets, we find that aluminum provides the best overall thrust and specific impulse (Isp). Specifically, for a MLT system employing a 10 μJ/pulse, 10 kHz, 1064 nm microchip laser and Al propellant, we report the following system parameters: thrust range equals 0.5 μN - 5 μN, Isp equals 4900 s, system mass equals 455 g, and maximum required power equals 6.5 W. Atomic force and scanning electron microscope images of craters formed by single and multi-pulse ablation are shown to provide insight into effective propellant feed mechanism designs.

Paper Details

Date Published: 13 September 2002
PDF: 14 pages
Proc. SPIE 4760, High-Power Laser Ablation IV, (13 September 2002); doi: 10.1117/12.482145
Show Author Affiliations
David A. Gonzales, MIT Lincoln Lab. (United States)
Robert P. Baker, MIT Lincoln Lab. (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 4760:
High-Power Laser Ablation IV
Claude R. Phipps, Editor(s)

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