Faculty Advisor

Dr. Nikolaos A. Gatsonis

Faculty Advisor

Dr. John Blandino

Faculty Advisor

Dr. Mark Richman

Faculty Advisor

Dr. Grétar Tryggvason


This work is part of an effort to develop an unstructured, three-dimensional, direct simulation Monte Carlo/particle-in-cell (DSMC/PIC) code for the simulation of non-ionized, fully ionized and partially-ionized flows in micropropulsion devices. Flows in microthrusters are often in the transitional to rarefied regimes, requiring numerical techniques based on the kinetic description of the gaseous or plasma propellants. The code is implemented on unstructured tetrahedral grids to allow discretization of arbitrary surface geometries and includes an adaptation capability. In this study, an existing 3D DSMC code for rarefied gasdynamics is improved with the addition of the variable hard sphere model for elastic collisions and a vibrational relaxation model based on discrete harmonic oscillators. In addition the existing unstructured grid generation module of the code is enhanced with grid-quality algorithms. The unstructured DSMC code is validated with simulation of several gaseous micronozzles and comparisons with previous experimental and numerical results. Rothe s 5-mm diameter micronozzle operating at 80 Pa is simulated and results are compared favorably with the experiments. The Gravity Probe-B micronozzle is simulated in a domain that includes the injection chamber and plume region. Stagnation conditions include a pressure of 7 Pa and mass flow rate of 0.012 mg/s. The simulation examines the role of injection conditions in micronozzle simulations and results are compared with previous Monte Carlo simulations. The code is also applied to the simulation of a parabolic planar micronozzle with a 15.4-micron throat and results are compared with previous 2D Monte Carlo simulations. Finally, the code is applied to the simulation of a 34-micron throat MEMS-fabricated micronozzle. The micronozzle is planar in profile with sidewalls binding the upper and lower surfaces. The stagnation pressure is set at 3.447 kPa and represents an order of magnitude lower pressure than used in previous experiments. The simulation demonstrates the formation of large viscous boundary layers in the sidewalls. A particle-in-cell model for the simulation of electrostatic plasmas is added to the DSMC code. Solution to Poisson's equation on unstructured grids is obtained with a finite volume implementation. The Poisson solver is validated by comparing results with analytic solutions. The integration of the ionized particle equations of motion is performed via the leapfrog method. Particle gather and scatter operations use volume weighting with linear Lagrange polynomial to obtain an acceptable level of accuracy. Several methods are investigated and implemented to calculate the electric field on unstructured meshes. Boundary conditions are discussed and include a formulation of plasma in bounded domains with external circuits. The unstructured PIC code is validated with the simulation of a high voltage sheath formation.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Mechanical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





DSMC, PIC, unstructured mesh, microthrusters, micronozzles