Faculty Advisor

Mark W. Richman

Faculty Advisor

Jerold W. Emhoff

Faculty Advisor

Nikolaos A. Gatsonis

Faculty Advisor

John J. Blandino

Faculty Advisor

Cosme Furlong

Faculty Advisor

Peter S. Rostler

Faculty Advisor

James J. Szabo


This research seeks to increase the applicable range and sensitivity of Triple Langmuir Probes (TLPs) and Retarding Potential Analyzers (RPAs) in the characterization of sub-centimeter scale, unsteady plasmas found in micropropulsion and other non-propulsive applications. The validation of these plasma diagnostics is accomplished by their implementation in the plume of a Micro Liquid-fed Pulsed Thruster (MiLiPulT) prototype developed and MEMS fabricated by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. A current-mode TLP (CM-TLP) theory of operation for the thin-sheath and the transitional regimes is expanded to include the Orbital Motion Limited regime applicable to low density plasmas. An optimized CM-TLP bias circuit employing operational amplifiers in both a differential amplifier configuration as well as a voltage follower configuration has been developed to adequately amplify current signals in instances where traditional current measuring techniques are no longer valid. This research also encompasses novel sub-microampere signal amplification in the presence of substantial common-mode noise as well as several a priori electromagnetic interference elimination and filtering techniques. The CM-TLP wires used in the experiments were designed with a radius of 37.5 micron and a length of 5 mm. Measurements were taken in the plume of the MiLiPulT at 2.0 cm, 6.0 cm and 10.0 cm downstream of the exit using a linear translation stage. Reduced electron temperature and electron number density profiles for a set of filtered CM-TLP raw currents are presented. The results indicate increased accuracy due to successful amplification of CM-TLP current signals at the risk of op-amp saturation due to inherent electrical noise of the plasma source. This research also includes the experimental validation of two new and distinct collimating RPA design types. Specifically, these design improvements include a 406 micron diameter single channel bore and a multi-channel plate (MCP) consisting of sixty-four 2 micron diameter bores, respectively. Both of these collimators relax the Debye length constraints within the electrode series and increase the instrument's range while minimizing the presence of space charge limitations. The single channel needle also has the added advantage of providing a relatively small cross-section to the incident plasma, thus minimizing pressure gradients and shock effects inherent to bulkier instrumentation. Experimental results obtained in the plume of the MiLiPulT are benchmarked against those of a traditional gridded RPA (having a 650 micron grid wire gap) and are reduced using an iterative fuzzy logic algorithm. Modifications to the classical RPA current collection theory include a thorough treatment of geometrical flux limitations due to an electrically floating cylindrical channel of high diameter to length aspect ratio. The differences between true and effective RPA collimating channel transparencies in the presence of a Maxwellian plasma are also addressed.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Mechanical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





TLP, RPA, retarding potential analyzer, triple Langmuir Probe, plume, probe, diagnostic, thruster, Plasma, Electric propulsion, Plasma probes