A short document proposes liquid- metal- fed pulsed plasma thrusters for small spacecraft. The propellant liquid for such a thruster would be a low- melting- temperature metal that would be stored molten in an unpressurized, heated reservoir and would be pumped to the thruster by a magneto- hydrodynamic coupler. The liquid would enter the thruster via a metal tube inside an electrically insulating ceramic tube. A capacitor would be connected between the outlet of the metal tube and the outer electrode of the thruster. The pumping would cause a drop of liquid to form at the outlet, eventually growing large enough to make contact with the outer electrode. Contact would close the circuit through the capacitor, causing the capacitor to discharge through the drop. The capacitor would have been charged with enough energy that the discharge would vaporize, ionize, and electromagnetically accelerate the contents of the metal drop. The resulting plasma would be ejected at a speed of about 50 km/s. The vaporization of the drop would reopen the circuit through the capacitor, enabling recharging of the capacitor. As pumping continued, a new drop would grow and the process would repeat.
This work was done by Thomas Markusic of Marshall Space Flight Center.