A high sensitivity momentum flux measuring instrument for plasma thruster exhausts and diffusive plasmas




West, Michael D.
Charles, Christine
Boswell, Rod W.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


American Institute of Physics (AIP)


A high sensitivity momentum flux measuring instrument based on a compound pendulum has been developed for use with electric propulsion devices and radio frequency driven plasmas. A laser displacement system, which builds upon techniques used by the materials science community for surface stress measurements, is used to measure with high sensitivity the displacement of a target plate placed in a plasma thruster exhaust. The instrument has been installed inside a vacuum chamber and calibrated via two different methods and is able to measure forces in the range of 0.02-0.5 mN with a resolution of 15 microN. Measurements have been made of the force produced from the cold gas flow and with a discharge ignited using argon propellant. The plasma is generated using a Helicon Double Layer Thruster prototype. The instrument target is placed about 1 mean free path for ion-neutral charge exchange collisions downstream of the thruster exit. At this position, the plasma consists of a low density ion beam (10%) and a much larger downstream component (90%). The results are in good agreement with those determined from the plasma parameters measured with diagnostic probes. Measurements at various flow rates show that variations in ion beam velocity and plasma density and the resulting momentum flux can be measured with this instrument. The instrument target is a simple, low cost device, and since the laser displacement system used is located outside the vacuum chamber, the measurement technique is free from radio frequency interference and thermal effects. It could be used to measure the thrust in the exhaust of other electric propulsion devices and the momentum flux of ion beams formed by expanding plasmas or fusion experiments.



Keywords: Beam velocity; Cold gas; Compound pendulum; Diagnostic probes; Diffusive plasmas; Double layers; Downstream components; Electric propulsion devices; Expanding plasmas; Fusion experiments; High sensitivity; Laser displacement; Low density; Low-cost devices



Review of Scientific Instruments


Journal article

Book Title

Entity type

Access Statement

License Rights



Restricted until