Thrust Noise Minimization in Long-term Laser Ablation of Propellant Material in the Nanosecond and Picosecond Regime

, , , , , , und . Optical Engineering 56 (1): 011010 (Januar 2017)


The avoidance of any moving parts in a microthruster exhibits a great potential for low-noise thrust generation in the micronewton range. This is required, e.g., for scientific missions that need attitude and orbit control systems with exquisite precision. Laser ablation propulsion offers the opportunity of permanent inertia-free, electro-optical delivery of laser energy to access the propellant entirely without moving it. New propellant is accessed by ablating the previous surface in layers, essentially damaging the surface with a laser over and over again. The resulting surface properties for different fluences and scanning patterns were investigated for multiple layers of aluminum, copper, and gold. The pulse-length-specific issues of various ablation mechanisms such as vaporization, spallation, and phase explosion are accounted for by the use of a 10-ps laser system and a 500-ps laser system. We show that the surface roughness produced with 500-ps laser pulses is approximately twice the surface roughness generated by using 10-ps laser pulses. Furthermore, with 500-ps pulses, the surface roughness shows low dependency on the fluence for carefully chosen scanning parameters. Therefore, we conclude that laser pulse duration differences in the picosecond and nanosecond regimes will not necessarily alter surface roughness properties.

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