Electrospray thrusters are some of the smallest and highest efficiency propulsion systems being developed for satellites. Their novel propellants and operational mechanisms motivate a deeper understanding of the physics of an expanding molecular ion beam and the chemistry of plume particle collisions. Electrospray ion plumes challenge state of the art plasma modeling techniques due to the wide range of length and timescales over which key processes take place (i.e. nanometer-scale emission sites and centimeter scale operational volumes). Accompanying these spatial gradients are large density and velocity gradients in both the ion and neutral populations. We present state of the art numerical models of the dynamics and chemistry of an expanding molecular ion plume which are necessary explore design variables, to understand operating conditions, and to improve performance. We will also discuss comparison of these models with experimental data.
About the speaker: Elaine Petro is an Assistant Professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University. She is the director of ASTRAlab, a research lab focused on sustainable space propulsion and exploration architectures. Elaine completed her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, in the Space Power and Propulsion Laboratory, studying water plasma chemistry in RF discharges. She also spent several years in the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics as a visiting student and post-doctoral researcher, studying electrospray thruster technology for small satellite platforms using both numerical modeling and experimental characterization. For her work on electrospray model development, Petro is the recipient of the 2023 Air Force of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program (YIP) award. Petro has been named an ARCS Scholar, National Science Foundation and Amelia Earhart fellow, and was recognized as one of Aviation Week & Space Technology’s Twenty20s emerging leaders in aerospace in 2016.
Prior to graduate studies at UMD, Petro worked on the MAVEN Mars Orbiter, and James Webb Space Telescope, and Hubble Space Telescope missions at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Elaine is passionate about diversity and inclusion in STEM and is a founding member of the national Women of Aeronautics and Astronautics organization. Outside of academia, Elaine enjoys hiking, snowboarding, cycling, and keeps busy with two beagle-mix rescue dogs and a new baby.