Thrust measurement and thrust balance development at DLR’s electric propulsion test facility
German Aerospace Center (DLR), Institute of Aerodynamics and Flow Technology, Bunsenstrasse 10, 37073, Goettingen, Germany
Accepted: 18 October 2021
Published online: 23 November 2021
Electric space propulsion thrusters only produce low thrust forces. For the fulfillment of a space mission this implies long thruster runtimes, and this entails long qualification times on ground. For such long testing times, a ground facility requires a vacuum chamber and a powerful pumping system which can guarantee high vacuum over extended times and under thruster gas load. DLR’s STG-ET is such a ground test facility. It has a high pumping capability for the noble gases typically used as propellants. One basic diagnostic tool is a thrust measurement device, among various other diagnostic systems required for electric propulsion testing, e.g. beam diagnostics. At DLR we operate a thrust balance developed by the company AST with a thrust measurement range of 250 mN and capable of thruster weights up to 40 kg. Adversely, it is a bulky and heavy device and all upgrades and qualification work needs to be done in a large vacuum chamber. In order to have a smaller device at hand a second thrust stand is under development at DLR. The idea is to have a light and compact balance that could also be placed in one of the smaller DLR vacuum chambers. Furthermore, the calibration is more robust and the whole device is equipped with a watercooled housing. First tests are promising and showed a resolution well below 1 mN. In this paper we give background information about the chamber, describe the basics of thrust measurement and the development of a new balance.
Key words: Electric space propulsion / Vacuum chamber / Test facility / Thrust balance
© The Author(s) 2021
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