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Interlaboratory validation of a hanging pendulum thrust balance for electric propulsion testing

  • Schwertheim, A
  • Rosati Azevedo, E
  • Liu, G
  • Bosch Borràs, E
  • Bianchi, L
  • Knoll, A
Publication Date
Feb 07, 2021
UPCommons. Portal del coneixement obert de la UPC


A hanging pendulum thrust balance has been developed by Imperial College London in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) to characterize a wide range of static fire electric propulsion and chemical micro-propulsion devices with thrust in the range of 1 mN to 1 N. The thrusters under investigation are mounted on a pendulum platform, which is suspended from the support structure using stainless steel flexures. The displacement of the platform is measured using an optical laser triangulation sensor. Thermal stability is ensured by a closed loop self-compensating heating system. The traceability and stability of the calibration are ensured using two separate calibration subsystems: a voice coil actuator and a servomotor pulley system. Two nearly identical thrust balances have been constructed, with one being tested in the Imperial Plasma Propulsion Laboratory and the other in the ESA Propulsion Laboratory. Both balances show a high degree of linearity in the range of 0.5 mN–100 mN. Both instruments have demonstrated a stable calibration over several days, with an estimated standard deviation on thrust measurements better than 0.27 mN for low thrust measurements. The same electric propulsion test article was used during both tests: a Quad Confinement Thruster (QCT) variant called QCT Phoenix. This thruster differed from previous QCT designs by having a newly optimized magnetic topology. The device produced thrust up to 2.21 ± 0.22 mN with a maximum specific impulse of 274 ± 41 s for an anode power range of 50 W–115 W.

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