First Confirmed Ignition of the AIS-gPPT1 Gridded Pulsed Plasma Thruster

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In my previous blog post, I discussed the first ignition test of the AIS-gPPT1 Gridded Pulsed Plasma Thruster. Unfortunately, the test was unsuccessful. The thruster design did not allow for consistent and reliable ignition, and during the course of the test, pushing my system to its limits to attain ignition, I suffered from catastrophic electronics and instrumentation failures that have set me back.

However, despite these large setbacks and challenges, during the test I observed a small handful of actual ignitions from the thruster. While not remotely enough to consider the design or test a success at all, it provided a small bit of hope for future designs, testing, and improvements going forward.

During the test, I had also set up my phone to record video of the thruster in action, in the event that igntion was succesful. After the test and assessing system damage, I went back through several minutes of recorded testing. Much to my surprise, I actually managed to capture one of the four succesful igntions on camera! Below is a short four second clip of the thruster succesfully firing:

Although it’s just a single tiny blip of a pulse, the thruster did in fact fire correctly. Video never does justice to how amazing an expanding plume of plasma or exhaust from an ion drive actually looks in real life. Below is a picture of the thruster firing isolated from the video at its peak:

First Ignition Test - 05-07-2019

Hopefully with the new thruster iteration and redesign underway, and only days away from testing the next generation of this thruster, this pulse of plasma will be fired from the thruster consistently and repeatedly on command. Propulsion is a tough field, and miniaturization of electric propulsion remains a challenge and ongoing work in the field. Especially with unconventional and novel designs such as this, there will always be a lot of risk, failure, and trial and error before success is attained. Even more so, making progress at the hobbyist budget with a radically unconventional open-source maker-based approach, literally building thrusters on the dining room table and firing them in the basement only adds to the challenges. However, it is this exciting challenge, and these little glimpses of triumph that makes it worth pursuing!