Faculty Advisor

John J. Blandino

Faculty Advisor

Nikolaos A. Gatsonis

Faculty Advisor

Mark W. Richman

Faculty Advisor

Michael A. Demetriou


A lithium vaporizer for a high-power magnetoplasmadynamic (MPD) thruster is modeled using a parallel approach. A one-dimensional, thermal-resistive network is developed and used to calculate the required vaporizer length and power as a function of various parameters. After comparing results predicted by this network model with preheat power data for a 200 kW MPD thruster, we investigate performance over a parameter space of interest for the Advanced Lithium-Fed, Applied-field, Lorentz Force Accelerator (ALFA2) thruster. Heater power sensitivity to cathode tube emissivity, mass flow rate, and vapor superheat are presented. The cold-start heater power for 80 mg/s is found to range from 3.38 to 3.60 kW, corresponding to a vaporizer (axial) length of 18 to 26 cm. The strongest drivers of vaporizer performance are cathode tube emissivity and a conduction heat sink through the mounting flange. Also, for the baseline ALFA2 case, it is shown that increasing the vapor superheat from 100 K to 300 K has the effect of lowering the vaporizer thermal efficiency from 57% to 49%. Also, a finite-volume computational fluid dynamic (CFD) is implemented in FLUENT 6.2 which includes conjugated heat transfer to the solid components of the cathode. This model uses a single-fluid mixture model to simulate the effects of the two-phase vaporizer flow with source terms that model the vaporization. This model provides a solution of higher fidelity by including three-dimensional fluid dynamics such as thermal and momentum boundary layers, as well as calculating a higher resolution temperature distribution throughout the cathode assembly. Results from this model are presented for three mass flow rates of interest (40 mg/s, 80 mg/s, and 120 mg/s). Using a fixed power and length taken from the conceptual ALFA2 design, the dryout point ranges from 12.3-17.6 cm from the base of the cathode assembly for 40 mg/s and 80 mg/s, respectively. For the 120 mg/s case, the two-phase flow never reaches dryout. Finally, results two modeling approaches are compare favorably, with a maximum disagreement of 13.0 percent in prediction of the dryout point and 4.2 percent in predictions of the exit temperature.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Mechanical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





vaporizer, two-phase flow, electric propulsion, Space vehicles, Propulsion systems, Electric propulsion, Magnetoplasmadynamics