Plasma Research for Aerospace Applications

The aerospace sector has been on the cutting-edge of science and technology since mankind first succeeded in creating a vehicle capable of flight. In little over a century, our aircraft capacities have improved exorbitantly, enabling regular flights at sub-orbital and orbital heights. This rapid period of growth resulted in some the most important technological breakthroughs in history, including the installation of over 1,000 satellites into earth’s orbit. Aerospace organizations around the world are consistently attempting to research, design, and operate aircraft and space shuttles that far exceed current capacities.

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The discovery of carbon nanotubes has reinvigorated studies into space elevator technologies, while plasma research continues to improve the aerodynamic properties of existing and emerging aircraft.

This article will explore the purpose of plasma research for aerospace applications in further detail, and how Hiden Analytical mass spectrometers can be used for process control in plasma research environments:

Plasma Characterization for Aerospace Technologies

Plasma research for the aerospace sector is currently focused on the potential of active flow control for improved aerodynamics of atmospheric aircraft. A plasma actuator is an electronic device that manipulates the air flow-field around a wingspan or fuselage by discharging low-thermal plasma. This barrier ionizes air molecules and accelerates them through an electronic field, which can act as a vortex generator to improve the aerodynamic properties of the vehicle with low mechanical invasiveness.

Actuators using dielectric barrier discharge (DBD) are also being considered for new flight control systems to improve mechanical responses to atmospheric pressures and adverse conditions. Plasma research into this application remains highly theoretical, but the reduction of potentially heavy hydraulic rudder systems would support the construction of increasingly lightweight aircraft for low-pressure flight conditions.

It has also been theorized that non-thermal plasma actuators could be used for in-flight combustion processes, enabling ignition and stabilization of combustion engines in extreme conditions. Novel plasma research also suggests that the non-equilibrium chemistry of a plasma actuator could be used to manipulate flames produced by the unique thermodynamic conditions of orbital and sub-orbital flight.

Plasma research has also boosted the potential applications of high power impulse magnetron sputtering (HPIMS) technology, which has been used in advanced material engineering to improve the surface composition of exterior air and spacecraft tiling. These high-density films exhibit outstanding adhesion and suitable resistances to extreme thermodynamic influences. Pulsed plasma research has enhanced the substrate treatment methodologies of substrate etching, with broad applications for the aerospace industry and beyond.

This emergent plasma research is reliant upon highly circumspect process control situations and robust plasma characterizations to ensure that considered materials are suitable for application in the aerospace sector. Key plasma parameters must be monitored in development laboratories to maintain high purity in HIPIMS applications, from plasma yields and reaction kinetics, to production reproducibility. While positive and negative ion analysis is critical to assess the momentum transference capacities of a given plasma under different voltage supplies, to determine the potential electrohydrodynamic force of a plasma actuator.

Plasma Research with Hiden Analytical

Hiden Analytical is an expert in mass spectrometry techniques for a broad range of science and technology applications. Our range of plasma research analyzers suitable for aerospace applications includes:

  • EQP: an advanced plasma diagnostic tool for mass and energy analysis with an ion energy analysis range of up to 0 – 1000eV, for positive and negative ion analysis and options for afterglow, pulsed plasma, and characterization studies;
  • ESPion: a specialized Langmuir probe for comprehensive plasma diagnostics with fast data acquisition rate, and signal processing included for measurements resolved in time and space for pulsed, DC, microwave and RF plasma.
  • HPR-60 MBMS: a robust molecular beam sampling system for plasma characterization, incorporating the Hiden EQP mass/energy analyzer providing accurate analysis of plasma at atmospheric pressure with options for sampling at up to 5 Bar and including sampling at high temperature in combustion/flame studies for example.

If you would like any more information about performing plasma research with Hiden Analytical mass spectrometers, please do not hesitate to contact us.