Faculty Advisor

Nikolaos A. Gatsonis

Faculty Advisor

John J. Blandino

Faculty Advisor

Islam I. Hussein

Faculty Advisor

Lawrence Byrne

Faculty Advisor

Mark W. Richman


"One of the general processes of interest in Pulsed Plasma Thrusters is the ablation of the solid fuel. In general, ablation occurs when a short pulse of applied energy removes a portion of the fuel surface. Although this ablation process is relatively straight-forward in simple materials that sublimate, ablation in Pulsed Plasma Thrusters is significantly more complicated. This is caused by the transient conditions and the complex behavior of Teflon that does not sublimate but rather undergoes both physical and chemical changes prior to leaving the surface. These two effects combine to make Teflon ablation a highly nonlinear function of heat flux, material property variations, changing molecular weight, and phase transformation behavior. To gain greater insight into the ablation process, a one-dimensional ablation model is developed that addresses the more detailed thermal and thermodynamic behavior of Teflon during simulated operation of a Pulsed Plasma Thruster. The mathematical model is based on the work of Clark (1971), which focused on two-phase, one-dimensional Teflon ablation in the context of thermal protection systems. The model is modified for use in simulated PPT operations and implemented numerically using an adaptive non-uniform grid, explicit finite-difference techniques, and a volume fraction method to capture the interface between the crystalline and amorphous Teflon phases. The ablation model is validated against analytical heat transfer and ablation solutions and compared with previous experimental results. The Teflon ablation model is used to analyze several general ablation scenarios in addition to specific PPT conditions to gain greater insight into long-duration thruster firing, post-pulse material ablation, variable heat flux effects, variable material property effects, and the impact of surface re-crystallization on particulate emission. These simulations are considered in the context of prior experimental investigations of Pulsed Plasma Thrusters. The results of these simulations demonstrate the success of the numerical ablation model in predicting experimental trend and suggest potential paths of moderately improving thruster efficiency and operational repeatability in the future. "


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Mechanical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





Teflon Ablation, Pulsed Plasma Thrusters, Numerical Analysis, PPT, Depolymerization, Ablation (Aerothermodynamics), Electric propulsion, Polytef