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BD-Plasma Discharges for PPT Applications

Andis Dembovskis
German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Space Systems Bremen, Germany

AbstractThere are several approaches how to drive high voltage discharges within pulsed plasma thruster technologies for space propulsion. The method outlined here is novel in its approach using single capacitor for DC source and high voltage path creation by rapid switching. This method could simplify the thruster design and improve on its efficiency when applied. Keywords rapid switching; high voltage; DC discharge; Pulses Plasma Thrusters; PPT.

investigations, with gap of more than 1cm, this approach is necessary. As for the capacitors, they should be of bipolar configuration and here the ceramic motor capacitors were used. An optimal value is 10uF and 460V, as it will be discussed later. Since the configuration well reflects the specifications of usual CDI ignition control systems, like Accel 300+ with working input level at 525V, the noted ignition coils for that kind of installations can be used. The Fig.3 depicts the experimental setup used for the investigations.



Usual design of pulsed plasma thrusters (PPT) consist of double capacitor bank, one for high voltage (HV) to make DC current flow and one for very high voltage (VHV) source to ionize spark path between the electrodes. This effect was found while analyzing latest developments in high energy plasma pulse developments and is described here for its promising improvements on efficiency of PPT design.

Fig.1: Basic and BD-aided HV discharges of the same input energy.



The Fig.1 depicts the basic principle of the boosted diode for the setup. As can be noted, the only difference is the addition of HV diodes, which enable the capacitor to forward discharge over the air gap, as soon as the very high voltage (VHV) from transformer creates an ionization path. The transformator for test development used is a part of usual racing car CDI ignition system, a Crane Crams high performance ignition coil, PS91, with 1:54 turn ratio. In later stages also Accel 140019 with 1:100 turns ratio was used. The E-Core coils with epoxy isolation are here preferred for their robustness.

Fig.2: Capacitor discharge. (a)On the left, the usual approach. (b)On the right, the BD-Plasma configuration, with the additional diodes.

Fig.3: The experimental setup board.

As the HV resistant diodes are three items of NTE517 used, to ensure enough strong protection during VHV output times. They are rated for 15kV each, altogether ensuring protection against 45kV. Although in usual applications, where spark gap is of 3mm one diode would be enough, for experimental


1N5408 (6x)

A. Low voltage input scenario In the Fig.4 a modified version of the BD-Plasma generator is showed, which is applicable for output measurements. Since in the case of Fig.2.b, the output discharge reaches voltages well beyond 33kV, to jump over the 1cm electrodes, it is difficult to measure at high frequencies. And available VHV probes of up to 40kV were found to be not applicable for needed high frequency pulse measurements. Therefore simplified measurements with lower input voltage were chosen to be made, to observe overall system working model and to extrapolate them later for full model. As can be noted in Fig.4, two voltage probes are used at primary and secondary windings of the transformer. The main element enabling controlled discharge is the rated gas discharge tube. Here was used LittelFuse CG2 600V. It ensures that as soon as voltage between the electrodes will have reached 600V DC or a bit over in pulse case, it will make a spark-switch between the electrodes. Therefore it was possible to use 1.4kV rated LeCroy HV Probe with 100MHz bandwidth and was enough to identify output characteristics. Within figures 5 to 8 the following can be observed: Input (the yellow curve) behaves as dumped LCcircuit. This is well in tact to the expected behavior, since we have charge holding capacitor connected into As seen in Fig.6, as soon as capacitor is switched on in circuit to primary of coil, around 10s later the first HV spike follows. At that moment, the capacitor is still charged at about 80% of its initial charge and dont seem to lose its volume during the flashover. Later made observations in HV input will reveal further details. As obvious in Fig.7 and 8, the main difference between the without and with BD configuration is that in first case HV goes both directions, whereas within the BD case the peaks are positive direction only. As known from plasma physics, the case with singledirection ion flow, alike to DC, is expected to carry more energy into the medium than ions of AC current. Multiple HV sparks occur. Sometimes they are well periodically distanced, sometimes not. Why nonperiodicity occurs and how can a sudden negative voltage appear at primary coil without any outside activity, as measurements in Fig.5 and Fig.15 indicate, will be left out of this papers scope, as they are of occasional nature.






V 2

CraneCams Coil PS91 (1:100 turns)

Figure 4: Circuit for output measurements, with DPDT hand switch

Figure 5: Input and output without BD

Figure 6: Input and output with BD

Figure 7: Output without BD

It should be noted that here was used a hand driven switch only. These pictures give good overview on when output spark is to be awaited, what are general characteristics and relations between input and output curves, so we can go on and observe the input curves of the full model.

Figure 8: Output with BD

B. High voltage input scenario The Fig.9 and 10 show the used HV driving circuit during the tests. As depicted, in first scenario HV AC comes from socket, passes bridge rectifier converting to DC and charge capacitor up to 230V2=325V, providing 2F325V=650C or 2F325V^2106kJ. The DPDT hand switch is used as previously to switch capacitor between charge mode and discharge into coil. The second scenario however is a bit automated, by letting the capacitors to be constantly under a small charge and as soon as reached certain limit, do rapid discharge into coil. Thus when using the specified components in picture, flashover-switches occurred once per second. The input voltage to coil could be increased by using higher voltage rated gas discharge tube on the cost of frequency. Meanwhile frequency could be increased lowering resistor value. It should be noted that hand switches were used to ensure rapid switching times. If transistors or ultra high speed IGBTs were used, the BD effect was lost due to too slow switching times. The only other type of switch showed to work and therefore used here were different plasma discharge tubes, rated for voltages 145, 250, 350, 470 and 600 Volts. For certain high voltage DC currents rated mechanical relays might had been also applicable. But not the electronic SSR (Solid State Relays), as their switching time, like for transistors, are inapplicably slow. However it should be noted, that the plasma switches do consume a bit of energy. Therefore with the 2F and plasma switch combination the BD-Plasma was very tiny and 10F were used instead. The plasma switch leads also only to period activity of the LC circuit oscillation, since it switches off as soon as zero voltage is reached after the period. Therefore all the further showed measurements were made with manual switch. In Fig.11 and 12 we see how looks the input voltage curves in case of the optional diodes (violet, in Fig.9). The observed discharge properties didnt get influenced. This is here to show, that after the BD-Plasma discharge the capacitors still have charge left. About 80%, polarity switched. Further measurements are done without the optional diodes. The Fig.13 and 14 show measurements in case of absent BD, and Fig.15, 16 and 17 show for the BD present case. In each case the second picture is the zoomed first spark since from the analysis in previous section, we know that the first peakdrop after switch on is the spark discharge. Comparing Fig.13 to Fig.15 one will note, that in first case there are visible disturbances at the top and bottom of each wave, whereas at second case only shortly after top peak. It could be argued, that these disturbances are due electrostatic discharges which are sensed at measurement probes. Then it could give an indication that without BD there are occurring multiple sparks, one positive and one negative per each period, whereas with BD present only once per period, after the positive peak.

Figure 9: HV circuit with DPDT hand switch, up to 325V input.

Figure 10: HV circuit with automated plasma switch, up to 650V input.

Figure 11: With boost-diodes, before coil diodes (V1)

Figure 12: With boost-diodes, behind coil diodes (V2)

Figure 13: Input voltage oscilations, case without BD

Comparing Fig.14. to Fig.16 can be noted, that after the first spark, in case of BD, the oscillations are smoother and better dumped. This could be related to capacitor presence in the output circuit at that moment.

Slightly visible in Fig.16 and more obvious in Fig.17 is the fact that voltage of the capacitor slightly drops during the first spark occurrence. This leads us to our key point of understanding the source of the BD-Plasma high magnitude of plasma a short flashover of DC at around 300V. Therefore the discharge process is understood and interpreted as follows: as soon as VHV ionization path is created between the two electrodes, the capacitor also does forward discharge between the electrodes. And since the DC discharge does move electrons in one direction, its flow is the source of the observed big audible bang and plasma ball.



For visual inspection of the plasma discharges in normal air, photo shots with high speed camera Photron Fastcam SA3 at 2000 frames per second were made. For a real-alike reference, in the Fig.18 is a casual color camera photo of the electrodes made. The ball electrode, for positive anode, is a nickel plated brass of 1cm diameter and the second electrode is a 0.02mm copper wire. This configuration was chosen for analysis due providing the greatest sound and visual effect, as could be observed by ears and eyes. Copper wire-to-wire discharges were not so bright and loud, the same for other materials or forms than Nickel ball. The photo sequences in Fig.19 and Fig.20 show a discharge event of non-BD configuration and with-BD configuration accordingly.

Figure 14: Input voltage oscilations, case without BD, first spark zoomed Figure 18: Photoshot of electrodes with basic color camera

Figure 15: Input voltage oscilations, case with BD

Figure 16: Input voltage oscilations, case with BD, first spark zoomed

Figure 19: Discharge sequencial photos of non-BD configuration

Figure 17: Input voltage oscilations, case with BD, first wave zoomed

Figure 20: surface of electrode after BD discharges

During photographing session, it was noted that only one plasma event is registered per capacitor discharge. Although oscilloscope analysis gave a hope to register multiple spark events, the camera resolution frame of 500s duration was too slow to check if they are really present, due the only 200s long duration of the oscillations. There was a light source used for optimal lighting during photographing session. In the Fig.20 are shown a basic color camera taken photo of electrode surface after 4 BD-plasma discharges. Inspected with eye, these discharge points look like a small melted metal circles with well or growing in center. This presents an evidence of high energy presence in discharges, making the plated metal surface to melt. V. OUTLOOK ON FURTHER INVESTIGATIONS

For further investigations of the boosted-diode-plasma and its effects on electrode, it would be of high interest to microscope-analyze the discharge point surface structure as well as to perform EDX analysis for atomic consistency of the melted-looking discharge point. The same for released energy measurements [2,3] of light, temperature, and pressure. REFERENCES
[1] T. Schnherr, K Komurasaki, G. Herdrich, Study on Plasma Creation and Propagation in a Pulsed Magnetoplasmadynamic Thruster, World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology 74 2011 P. Graneau, N. Graneau, George Hathway, R.L. Hull, Arc-liberated chemical energy exceeds electrical input energy, Journal of Plasma Physics, 2000. A. Widom, L. Larsen, Ultra Low Momentum Neutron Catalyzed Nuclear Reactions on Metallic Hydride Surfaces," Eur. Phys. J. C, 2006 G. Shakti, Water Spark Plug, Panacea-BOCAF On-Line University, 2008. Robert Krupa, Spark Plug, US Patent 6,060,822; May 9, 2000.


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Figure 19: Discharge sequencial photos of BD configuration