Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering–Engineering Mechanics (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics


Lyon Bradley


Hall-effect thrusters (HETs) are compact electric propulsion devices with high specific impulse used for a variety of space propulsion applications. HET technology is well developed but the electron properties in the discharge are not completely understood, mainly due to the difficulty involved in performing accurate measurements in the discharge. Measurements of electron temperature and density have been performed using electrostatic probes, but presence of the probes can significantly disrupt thruster operation, and thus alter the electron temperature and density. While fast-probe studies have expanded understanding of HET discharges, a non-invasive method of measuring the electron temperature and density in the plasma is highly desirable.

An alternative to electrostatic probes is a non-perturbing laser diagnostic technique that measures Thomson scattering from the plasma. Thomson scattering is the process by which photons are elastically scattered from the free electrons in a plasma. Since the electrons have thermal energy their motion causes a Doppler shift in the scattered photons that is proportional to their velocity. Like electrostatic probes, laser Thomson scattering (LTS) can be used to determine the temperature and density of free electrons in the plasma. Since Thomson scattering measures the electron velocity distribution function directly no assumptions of the plasma conditions are required, allowing accurate measurements in anisotropic and non-Maxwellian plasmas. LTS requires a complicated measurement apparatus, but has the potential to provide accurate, non-perturbing measurements of electron temperature and density in HET discharges.

In order to assess the feasibility of LTS diagnostics on HETs non-invasive measurements of electron temperature and density in the near-field plume of a Hall thruster were performed using a custom built laser Thomson scattering diagnostic. Laser measurements were processed using a maximum likelihood estimation method and results were compared to conventional electrostatic double probe measurements performed at the same thruster conditions. Electron temperature was found to range from approximately 1 – 40 eV and density ranged from approximately 1.0 x 1017 m-3 to 1.3 x 1018 m-3 over discharge voltages from 250 to 450 V and mass flow rates of 40 to 80 SCCM using xenon propellant.