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INSTITUTE OF PHYSICS PUBLISHING J. Micromech. Microeng.

17 (2007) 322332

JOURNAL OF MICROMECHANICS AND MICROENGINEERING

doi:10.1088/0960-1317/17/2/019

Investigation on the ignition of a MEMS solid propellant microthruster before propellant combustion
Kaili Zhang1, Siaw Kiang Chou1 and Simon S Ang2
1

Department of Mechanical Engineering, National University of Singapore, Singapore 119260 2 Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701, USA E-mail: mpecsk@nus.edu.sg and kaili zhang@hotmail.com

Received 26 October 2006, in nal form 15 December 2006 Published 11 January 2007 Online at stacks.iop.org/JMM/17/322 Abstract A MEMS-based solid propellant microthruster with thin lm Au/Ti igniter has been fabricated for micropropulsion applications in microspacecraft. Since the propellant ignition process is crucial to the development of solid propellant microthrusters, nite-element based electro-thermal modeling is performed to predict and optimize the transient propellant ignition process. The model is implemented to determine the evolution of the propellant temperature with time, space and voltage and the ignition power, ignition delay and ignition energy. The difference in property between thin lm Au/Ti and bulk Au/Ti and heat transfer in the micro-scale thruster are highlighted. A custom-built interface circuitry is employed to measure the igniter temperature experimentally. The electro-thermal model can be employed to nd the optimum ignition subsystem for the solid propellant microthruster. (Some gures in this article are in colour only in the electronic version)

Nomenclature
Cp I k L Q R t T V heat capacity (J Kg1 K1) current (A) thermal conductivity (W mK1) Lorentz number heat ow (W) resistance ( ) time (s) temperature (K) voltage (V) convection coefcient (W m2 K1) electrical conductivity (1/ m) electrical resistivity ( m) density (kg m3)

1. Introduction
Microspacecrafts are one of the newer applications of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technologies in the
0960-1317/07/020322+11$30.00

space eld. Clusters of microspacecraft are more efcient than a single large conventional spacecraft in launch and operation. As such, the micropropulsion system is indispensable in microspacecraft for attitude control, delta-v maneuvers, drag compensation, station keeping and orbit adjust [13]. The solid propellant microthruster, based on the combustion of the energetic propellant stored in the microchamber, is a relatively new class of micropropulsion system. The solid propellant microthruster is an active research eld because it presents many advantages over other microthrusters, such as reduced system complexity, no moving parts and very low propellant leakage possibility [47]. Their main designs are based on the three-layer sandwich congurations. A building block approach, signicantly different from the sandwich conguration approach, is proposed by Zhang et al [8]. This approach has many merits over the former designs, such as higher fabrication efciency, more design exibility and better bonding quality. The earlier reported design employed a wire igniter that is not optimum for integration as well as batch fabrication. An improved solid propellant microthruster with 322

2007 IOP Publishing Ltd Printed in the UK

Investigation on the ignition of a MEMS solid propellant microthruster before propellant combustion

Figure 2. Three-dimensional picture of the microthruster with Au/Ti igniter.

Figure 1. SEM photograph of the Au/Ti igniter.

thin lm Au/Ti igniter is developed by Zhang et al [9]. It not only inherits the merits of the design in [8], but it is also more suitable for high level of integration and batch fabrication. The design and fabrication of the microthruster with thin lm Au/Ti igniter have been described in detail in [9]. Here, we only outline a few points that are important to discussion in this study. A lift-off method was employed to fabricate the thin lm Au/Ti igniter on a sodium-rich Pyrex-7740 glass wafer. Separately, a silicon wafer that contains a combustion chamber and a convergent-divergent nozzle was fabricated using a deep reactive ion etching (DRIE) technique. Finally, the glass wafer and the silicon wafer were anodic bonded together to form a three-dimensional microthruster. A reliable bond between the silicon layer and glass layer is then formed although there is a 246 nm silicon dioxide layer between the silicon and the glass [9]. The chamber was then loaded with a solid propellant. Once ignited, the combustion gas expands through the nozzle as its velocity increases drastically, thus producing the desired thrust and impulse. To provide electrical connections to the igniter, a larger piece of glass protruding out from the silicon part of the microthruster was used. The protruding glass part of the microthruster was inserted into a micro-connector to make the connection with the motherboard that contains the power source, addressing electronics and communication ports. Figure 1 shows the SEM photograph of the thin lm Au/Ti igniter while gure 2 shows the three-dimensional microthruster with thin lm Au/Ti igniter and propellant [9]. One of the challenges in developing the solid propellant microthruster lies in controlling the propellant transient ignition process. The ignition power, ignition delay and ignition energy are important parameters for the microthruster. A detailed study of the ignition process has been lacking in the literature. It was found that the electrical resistivity and thermal conductivity of thin lm Au/Ti igniter are crucial to study the ignition and they are signicantly different from those of bulk Au/Ti because of the difference in their microstructures. However, no existing electrical resistivity and thermal conductivity data of thin lm Au/Ti could be

found in the literature. Furthermore, there is very little investigation on the experimental measurement of the transient igniter temperature due to the difcult issue that the micro scale igniter is covered by the solid propellant. In this paper, nite-element based electro-thermal modeling is presented to predict and optimize the transient ignition process of the solid propellant microthruster with thin lm Au/Ti igniter. Propellant temperature variations with time, space and voltage are calculated and ignition power, ignition delay and ignition energy are derived from modeling. The electrical resistivity and thermal conductivity differences between the thin lm and bulk Au/Ti are highlighted. Moreover, differences in heat transfer between microthruster and conventional thruster are also addressed in the modeling. Furthermore, the transient micro scale igniter temperature is measured experimentally. The Au/Ti igniter temperatures from the modeling are compared with those obtained from experimental testing.

2. Three-dimensional nite-element electro-thermal modeling


2.1. Microthruster geometry The dimensions of the simulated microthruster with Au/Ti igniter are exactly the same as the microthruster with Au/Ti igniter reported in [9] (see gures 1 and 2). The geometry of the simulated microthruster with Au/Ti igniter is shown in gure 3. Figure 4 illustrates all the components with different material properties in the model. Au is the igniter conductor and Ti is the resistor. SiO2 acts as the insulation layer. Pyrex7740 glass is the igniter substrate and it is bonded together with Si to form a three-dimensional microthruster. The thicknesses of Ti, Au, SiO2, Pyrex-7740 glass and silicon are 0.206 m, 0.077 m, 0.246 m, 550 m and 750 m, respectively. The depth of the microchamber inside the silicon is 400 m. 2.2. Material property Modeling requires knowledge of the electrical resistivity, thermal conductivity, specic heat and density of the thin lm Au, thin lm Ti, thin lm silicon dioxide, Pyrex-7740 glass, silicon and solid propellant. The properties of the thin lm Au, Ti and silicon dioxide are the key properties for modeling and they are different from those of the bulk materials. Moreover, the fabrication conditions also affect the thin lm material properties. Therefore, the properties of the thin lm materials must be measured directly or chosen carefully. 323

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2.8E-06 2.6E-06 2.4E-06

y = -1E-15x 3 + 2E-12x2 + 1E-09x + 1E-06 R2 = 0.9999

Resistivity (.m)

2.2E-06 2.0E-06 1.8E-06 1.6E-06 1.4E-06 1.2E-06 1.0E-06 200

400

600

800

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Temperature (K)

Figure 3. Geometry of the simulated microthruster with Au/Ti igniter.

Figure 5. Estimated electrical resistivity and curve t for thin lm Ti.

(300 K) combined with the temperature-variation data from [11] is employed to estimate the thin lm Ti resistivity using Matthiessens rule [12]. Matthiessens rule states that the resistivity of a metal is made up of two components. One is the residual resistivity 0 , which is independent of temperature and would be observed at a temperature of absolute zero. The other is the lattice resistivity l (T ), due to the vibrating lattice. Experiments justify that the two resistivities can be separated and it is expected that l (T ) would be the same for the bulk and thin lm metals, but that 0 would be different. As a result, the bulk Ti resistivity bulk (T ) and thin lm Ti resistivity thin-lm (T ) can be written as bulk (T ) = o,bulk + l (T ) thin-lm (T ) = o,thin-lm + l (T ).
Figure 4. Components of the simulated microthruster.

(1) (2)

Therefore, the resistivity difference between thin lm Ti and bulk Ti is = thin-lm (T ) bulk (T ) = o,thin-lm 0,bulk = thin-lm (300) bulk (300). (3) Consequently, the value from the table of bulk Ti resistivity versus temperature in [11] can be adjusted for the thin lm Ti by adding thin-lm (T ) = bulk (T ) + . (4)

2.2.1. Electrical resistivity of thin lm titanium. The resistivity of Ti as a function of temperature can be found in [10, 11]. However, these data for bulk Ti cannot be used for thin lm Ti because of the differences in their microstructures. The resistivity of a metal can be divided into temperature-dependent and independent-components. The temperature-dependent component is due to the electron scattering by vibrating lattice atoms. Higher temperature results in more electron scattering, and thus, a higher resistivity. The temperature-independent component relies on the metal crystal lattice, the impurities and the microstructure. Impurity atoms and vacancies in the crystal lattice yield deviations from the highly ordered structure. The disordered lattice interacts more heavily with the electrons comprising an electrical current, and brings about a higher resistivity [12]. The thin lm Ti used in this paper has a higher resistivity than the bulk Ti tested in [11] at room temperature. This higher resistivity is caused by the low deposition temperature (room temperature E-beam evaporation), not allowing for diffusion of individual titanium atoms during the deposition to form a lattice of a lower defect density as compared to the bulk Ti. The measured thin lm Ti resistivity at room temperature 324

The thin lm Ti resistivity at 300 K (thin-lm (300)) is measured using a Veeco FPP-5000 4-Point Probe. A Ti layer with a thickness of about 200 nm is e-beam deposited onto a 4-inch silicon wafer with a silicon dioxide insulation layer. The deposition conditions are the same as those employed for the fabrication of the thin lm Au/Ti igniter. Then, the sheet resistivity of Ti at 300 K is measured using the Veeco FPP-5000 4-Point Probe. The thin lm Ti resistivity is obtained through multiplying the sheet resistivity by the Ti layer thickness. The resistivity of thin lm Ti at 300 K is 156.35 108 m, which is much higher than the bulk resistivity of 51.1 108 m [11]. The estimated resistivity variation with temperature of thin lm Ti using equation (4) is shown in gure 5. As can be

Investigation on the ignition of a MEMS solid propellant microthruster before propellant combustion

Thermal Conductivity (W/mK)

seen, the curve is fairly linear. Using Excel, the third-order t gives thin-lm (T ) = 1 1015 T 3 + 2 1012 T 2 + 1 109 T + 1 106 . (5) 2.2.2. Thermal conductivity of thin lm titanium. The thermal conductivity of bulk Ti as a function of temperature can be found in [11]. These data must be adjusted for thin lm Ti because of the differences in the microstructures of bulk and thin lm Ti. Heat is transported in metal both by phonons and electrons. In pure metals, the component of heat transport due to electrons dominates, as such the phonon effects can be neglected [12]. Both heat and electrical transport involve the free electrons in metal. The thermal conductivity increases with the average particle velocity since that increases the forward transport of energy. However, the electrical conductivity ( = 1/) decreases as the particle velocity increases because the collisions divert the electrons from forward transport of charge. This means that the ratio of thermal to electrical conductivity depends on the average velocity squared, which is proportional to the kinetic temperature. The ratio of the thermal conductivity to the electrical conductivity is expressed by the WiedemannFranz Law [12]. = = LT , (6) where L, called the Lorentz number, is theoretically equal to 2.45 108 W K2. Measurements show this value to be the correct order of magnitude for most metals, although it is found to vary slowly with temperature. The Lorentz number for titanium is 3.09 108 W K2 [1012]. No measurement of the thin lm Ti thermal conductivity at room temperature is made. Instead, the WiedemannFranz Law is employed to obtain a value for (300 K) of 5.93 W m1 K1. The thin lm Ti thermal conductivity as a function of temperature is estimated as follows. The inverse of the thermal conductivity (1/, called thermal resistivity) is assumed to have two components. One is due to lattice defects (1/0 ) and the other is due to thermal vibrations (1/l (T )), in analogy to the electrical resistivity in equation (2). 1 1 1 + = . (7) (T ) 0 l (T ) The thermal resistivity difference (1/) between thin lm and bulk Ti is written as 1 1 1 = thin-lm (T ) bulk (T ) 1 1 = 0,thin-lm 0,bulk 1 1 = . (8) thin-lm (300) bulk (300) Therefore, 1 1 1 . (9) + thin-lm (T ) = bulk (T ) The thermal conductivity variation with temperature of thin lm Ti using equation (9) is shown in gure 6. The third-order curve t gives (T ) = 2 109 T 3 + 5 106 T 2 0.0037T + 6.6715. (10)

5.95

y = -2E-09x 3 + 5E-06x2 - 0.0037x + 6.6715 R 2 = 0.9997


5.9

5.85

5.8

5.75

5.7 200

400

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800

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Temperature (K)

Figure 6. Estimated thermal conductivity and curve t for thin lm Ti.

2.2.3. Electrical resistivity and thermal conductivity of thin lm gold. The electrical resistivity and thermal conductivity of thin lm Au are obtained in a similar manner as those for thin lm Ti. A layer of Au with a thickness of 77 nm was e-beam deposited onto a 4-inch silicon wafer with a silicon dioxide insulation layer. The thin lm Au resistivity at room temperature (300 K) was measured using a Veeco FPP-5000 4-Point Probe. The thin lm Au resistivity variation with temperature is calculated using the Matthiessens rule and bulk Au resistivity data [11]. The thermal conductivity of thin lm Au as a function of temperature is obtained from the WiedemannFranz Law and bulk Au thermal conductivity data [11]. The curve t equations for the electrical resistivity and thermal conductivity yield (T ) = 2 1014 T 2 + 7 1011 T + 2 108 (T ) = 5 10 T 0.017T + 186.51.
2 6

(11) (12)

2.2.4. Thermal conductivity of thin lm silicon dioxide. The silicon dioxide used in this work was thermally grown in a wet atmosphere to a thickness of 246 nm. Its thermal conductivity as a function of temperature is obtained from [13] and the curve t is given as (T ) = 7 109 T 3 2 105 T 2 + 0.0154T 2.9449. (13) 2.2.5. Specic heat of thin lm titanium, gold and silicon dioxide. The specic heats for the thin lm Ti, Au and SiO2 are similar to those of bulk Ti, Au and SiO2. These data are from [11]. The curve t equations are CpTi (T ) = 0.0005T 2 + 0.6373T + 378.48
7 3 2

(14) (15)

CpAu (T ) = 4 10 T + 0.0005T 0.2452T + 163.22 CpSiO2 (T ) = 0.0016T + 2.5449T + 129.94.


2

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Table 1. Material properties. Silicon Electrical resistivity ( m) Thermal conductivity (W m1 K1) Density (kg m3) Specic heat (J kg1 K1) 1 141.2 2330 713.5 Pyrex-7740 1.26 106 1.18 2230 753.12 Propellant 0.65 1854.6 1860

2.2.6. Properties of bulk silicon, Pyrex-7740 glass and propellant. The properties of bulk silicon, Pyrex-7740 glass and propellant are from the suppliers, respectively, as shown in table 1. The solid propellant consists of 90% (mass fraction) gunpowder (75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal and 10% sulfur), 6% ammonium perchlorate, 3% aluminum and 1% Fe2O3. The variations of these bulk materials physical parameters with temperature are ignored. 2.3. Electro-thermal process Heating of the Au/Ti igniter occurs when electrons are energized by the applied power and collide with the lattice. The resultant increase in lattice-vibration energy corresponds to a higher igniter temperature. As the igniter temperature increases, collisions of electrons with vibrating lattice atoms are more likely, so the electrical resistance increases while the thermal conductivity decreases. At higher power, these changes lead to increased lattice heating because more heat is being generated and the generated heat cannot ow away easily. The electro-thermal process can be described by (T ) + Qohmic Qconduction Qconvection Qradiation T Cp = 0, (17) t where Qohmic is the heat generated by ohmic heating; Qconduction , Qconvection , Qradiation are the heat lost by conduction, convection and radiation, respectively and T is the temperature distribution that is to be determined over space and time. 2.4. Boundary conditions and initial condition The boundary conditions are as follows: the temperature of the ambient is 300 K; heat convection on all the surfaces of the microthruster in contact with ambient air, and ohmic heating in the element volumes. For this transient modeling, the initial temperature of the entire microthruster is set to be 300 K. Radiation is not considered because the high temperature part of the Au/Ti igniter is covered by the propellant and the effect of radiation is signicant only at higher temperatures. One main difference between sea level operation and space operation (vacuum ambient) is that the heat convection does not need to be considered. However, for reasons described next, the effect of heat convection on the ignition process can be neglected. To facilitate comparison of numerical and experimental results, the model does not cover space operation.

to model the temperature distribution of the three-dimensional structure. In this paper, ANSYS is employed because of its excellent capacity to solve multi-physics problems in micro scale [15, 16]. A model that is meshed too coarsely will yield incorrect results. However, a model that is meshed more nely than required for correct results will greatly slow the simulation speed. Therefore, appropriate mesh for the microthruster must be found. For ease of meshing, it is advantageous to break up regions of a given material into high- and low-density-mesh regions. The thin lm Au and Ti have the nest mesh to simulate the electro-thermal process more accurately as shown in gures 7(a) and (b), respectively. For the propellant, the region near the Au/Ti igniter is meshed nely to match the Au/Ti mesh and to capture the conductive heat transfer; the mesh becomes coarser away from this region as shown in gure 7(c). The computational grids used for the simulations are determined by performing grid-independent study to minimize the modeling error. When the change in the solution between subsequent stages of grid renement is considered to be negligible, the lower, but still sufcient, grid resolution is kept. The igniter maximum temperature that is crucial to the ignition is compared among different stages of grid renement. Finally, the model is meshed using 40 805 nodes as shown in gure 7(d). 3.1. Effect of heat convection on microthruster propellant temperature Generally, for conventional thrusters, heat convection is an important factor that impacts the ignition process. To study the effect of heat convection on microthruster ignition, simulation is performed for the microthruster with different convection coefcient values of 10 W m2 K1 and 100 W m2 K1, respectively. Figure 8 shows the propellant maximum temperature comparison with an ignition voltage of 10 V. When the propellant maximum temperature is below 700 K, the temperature difference is within 1% even if the convection coefcient increases from 10 W m2 K1 to 100 W m2 K1. When the maximum temperature is below 800 K, the difference is within 6%. Because the ignition temperature (613.15 K) of the propellant is below 800 K, the effect of convection coefcient on the ignition process can be neglected. Due to the small size of the microthruster, the heat convection is supposed to be negligible at median-low temperatures, which is very much different from that for conventional thruster. This is also validated for micro-scale heater as stated in [16]. The heat convection coefcient is estimated to be 100 W m2 K1 using the infra-red (IR) method [14]. The device dimensions and conditions in [14] are similar to those of the microthruster in this research. Therefore, 100 W m2 K1 is chosen for our simulations. 3.2. Propellant temperature variation with time and space The propellant temperature variation with time and space is very important for understanding the ignition process. Figures 9(a)(c) show the propellant temperature variation from 1 ms to 100 ms with an ignition voltage of 15 V. The cross-section views of the propellant temperature prole are also shown in gures 9(b) and (c).

3. Computation
For the transient electro-thermal process, nite-element modeling using commercial software is the most feasible way 326

Investigation on the ignition of a MEMS solid propellant microthruster before propellant combustion

(a)

(b)

(c)

(d )

Figure 7. Meshing: (a) meshed thin lm Au layer; (b) meshed thin lm Ti layer; (c) meshed propellant layer and (d) meshed microthruster with Au/Ti igniter.

900

When the supply voltage is higher than 8 V, the ignition delay decreases with the increase of the ignition voltage. 3.4. Ignition power, ignition delay, ignition energy and ignition efciency
10 V-10 W/m^2/K

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300 0 2 4

Time (s)

10

Figure 8. Effect of heat convection on microthruster ignition.

3.3. Propellant maximum temperature variation with voltage The propellant maximum temperature is a key parameter for the ignition. Figure 10 shows the propellant maximum temperature variation as a function of voltage. The curves indicate that the maximum temperature increases quickly at the application of the power supply but increases slowly after 1 s. This is because of the equilibrium between heat generation by Joule effect and heat loss by conduction. The propellant maximum temperature as well as the ignition process can be controlled by adjusting the ignition voltage supply. The simulation results show that below a supply voltage of 8 V, the ignition fails even if the application time is innite. In fact, if the supply voltage is lower than 8 V, the propellant temperature reaches its steady state characterized by a constant maximum temperature lower than the ignition temperature (613.15 K).

One main purpose of the electro-thermal modeling is to determine an optimum ignition voltage to minimize ignition energy and to improve ignition efciency. Figure 11 shows the ignition power and ignition delay variations as a function of ignition voltage. The ignition power increases and the ignition delay decreases when the ignition voltage increases. The ignition delay changes more drastically with the ignition voltage compared to the ignition power. Therefore, the ignition delay is the main factor that affects the ignition energy, and thus, the ignition efciency. Figure 12 shows the ignition energy as a function of the ignition voltage. The ignition energy decreases rapidly with the ignition voltage when the ignition voltage is below 15 V. When the voltage is over 15 V, the ignition energy decreases slowly and reaches the lowest value at 22 V. When the ignition voltage is higher than 22 V, the ignition energy increases slowly with voltage. From these results, optimum is quite at between 15 V and 22 V, and that the lower limit (15 V) is suggested to be used due to power source consideration in actual applications, especially for a wireless circuitry using battery as the power source [17]. Although the Pyrex-7740 glass substrate has a better thermal resistance than silicon as shown in table 1, it is still possible to have a large heat loss because the thin lm heater is directly deposited onto the glass substrate. To document the heat loss through the glass substrate and to address the ignition efciency, simulation is performed with the assumption of an adiabatic glass substrate whose thermal conductivity is assumed to be zero. Figure 13 shows the propellant maximum temperature for adiabatic and non-adiabatic substrates at an ignition voltage of 15 V. The maximum temperature is higher 327

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(a)

(b)

(c)

Figure 9. Propellant temperature variation from 1 ms to 100 ms with an ignition voltage of 15 V: (a) at 1 ms; (b) at 10 ms and (c) at 100 ms.

for the adiabatic substrate compared to that for the nonadiabatic substrate. The ignition energy for the adiabatic substrate is 0.000 59 J, which is much lower than that (0.001 71 J) for the non-adiabatic substrate. Therefore, reducing the heat loss through the substrate is important to improve the ignition efciency. 3.5. Effect of silicon dioxide on ignition efciency A thermal oxidation process was performed for the silicon part of the microthruster to improve its electrical insulation to reduce current leakage. After thermal oxidation, the entire silicon part is covered with a 246 nm of silicon dioxide (SiO2) layer. Figure 14 shows the propellant maximum temperature variation as a function of time with and without the SiO2 layer. With an ignition voltage of 15 V, the propellant maximum temperature with the SiO2 layer is higher than that without the SiO2 layer. Moreover, the ignition energy (0.001 71 J) with the SiO2 layer is lower than that (0.002 38 J) without the SiO2 layer. Therefore, silicon dioxide insulation improves the 328

ignition efciency, although this silicon dioxide layer slightly increases the power requirements for anodic bonding.

4. Experimental testing of solid propellant microthruster with Au/Ti igniter


A custom-built circuitry developed in [17] was utilized to measure experimentally the transient temperature of the Au/Ti igniter. The experimental temperature is obtained by measuring the electrical resistance change of the igniter. This method has been shown to be accurate for obtaining the transient temperature of micro-scale heaters [18, 19]. As the electrical resistance change is caused by the heating process when a voltage is applied, the experimental calibration law between the igniter electrical resistance and temperature is needed to extract the actual temperature of the igniter. 4.1. Resistance versus temperature calibration Because conventional printed circuit boards are not suitable for high temperature application, a silicon chip with a SiO2

Investigation on the ignition of a MEMS solid propellant microthruster before propellant combustion
1200 1100 1000
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Ignition energy (J)

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Figure 10. Propellant maximum temperature variation with ignition voltage.


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Figure 12. Ignition energy variation with ignition voltage.


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Figure 13. Effect of heat loss through the glass substrate.

Figure 11. Ignition power and ignition delay variations with ignition voltage.

insulation layer and Au contact pads was selected to hold the microthruster. The small Au contact pads of the microthruster were connected to the Au contact pads on the SiO2 layer using a thin Au wire by ultrasonic wire bonding. Then the Au contact pads on the SiO2 layer were attached to exible wires using a high-temperature solder. The microthruster installed on the silicon chip was placed into a Carbolite 1200 burn-off furnace. The furnace temperature and the igniter resistance were simultaneously measured using an Agilent 34970A data acquisition unit. The furnace temperature was gradually increased and measured by taking the average readings of two type-K thermocouples mounted very close to the microthruster. The resistance of the igniter was measured using a four-wire technique to improve resistance measurement accuracy. The furnace temperature slowly increased and held at a constant level at each increment

until the temperature of the furnace and the resistance of the igniter were stabilized. The Au/Ti igniter resistance versus temperature curve is shown in gure 15. The nal calibration law deduced from the experiment is given by R = 0.0001T 2 + 0.1614T + 346.32. T is the igniter average temperature and R is the igniter resistance. A positive TCR behavior can be seen from the observed increase of the igniter resistance with temperature. Nevertheless, the resistance increase is not linear as would be expected for pure Au and Ti. This is probably caused by the formation of AuSi eutectic at the interface between the igniter and silicon cover during the anodic bonding process. 4.2. Igniter temperature variation with time For more accurate measurements and a higher data acquisition rate, an Agilent 34970A data acquisition unit with a 34901A plug-in module was connected to the circuitry to measure the small current change at a scan rate of 3 ms. Because the 329

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Figure 16. Au/Ti igniter temperature variation with time.

Figure 14. Effect of the SiO2 layer on ignition efciency.


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Figure 15. Au/Ti igniter resistance versus temperature calibration curve.

Figure 17. Comparison between measurements and electro-thermal modeling.

internal resistance of the ammeter in 34901A is very small (0.5 ) compared to the resistance of the thin lm Au/Ti igniter (in the range of 300 ), the current measurement error caused by its series resistance can be neglected. The measurement was performed only for low voltage values to avoid the propellant combustion. Once the combustion occurs, the produced high temperature will greatly affect the igniter temperature. The current change with an input voltage of 8 V was measured for the microthruster with Au/Ti igniter at atmosphere pressure. The igniter average temperature variation with an input voltage of 8 V is deduced from the calibration law and is shown in gure 16. The curve indicates that the average temperature increases rapidly at the application of the power supply but increases slowly after 1 s. This is because of the equilibrium between heat generation by Joule effect and heat loss by conduction. As can be seen, the variation in temperature follows a logarithmic trend with a curve t of T = 11.591Ln(t) + 197.89, where R 2 = 0.9243. Detailed uncertainty analysis for the experiment is presented in [17]. The uncertainties in current, resistance and igniter temperature measurements are 0.05 mA, 0.7 and 5 C, respectively. 330

4.3. Comparison between experimental measurement and electro-thermal modeling The Au/Ti igniter temperature comparison between experimental measurement using the circuitry and the electrothermal modeling is performed and shown in gure 17. For ignition voltages of 5 V and 8 V, the maximum temperature differences between experiment and modeling are 9 C and 12 C, respectively. The differences are mainly caused by the variation between actual thin lm Au/Ti material characteristics and those calculated in the modeling, the uncertainty in resistance versus temperature calibration and the series resistance in the current measurement. Both for 5 V and 8 V, the temperature differences between experiment and modeling are smaller than 8% within a voltage input time of 1 s, whereas the differences become higher (still within 15%) when the voltage input time is larger than 1 s. Besides the reasons mentioned above, another possible cause for the difference is the neglect of physical property variations of the propellant and Pyrex substrate with temperature (not available to authors). As known, the thin lm heater conducts heat directly to the propellant and substrate. This assumption is

Investigation on the ignition of a MEMS solid propellant microthruster before propellant combustion

Figure 18. Thrust testing signal with a voltage input of 10 V.

acceptable for the ignition modeling here because the ignition delays investigated are all smaller than 1 s (e.g. 0.0364 s for 10 V). Anyhow more efforts are needed to improve the modeling and experiment accuracy. Figure 18 shows a thrust testing signal of the microthruster with an ignition voltage of 10 V at atmosphere pressure. The test was performed using the thrust testing system developed in [9]. A current output of 27 mA is observed at the time of ignition. The ignition power is estimated to be 0.27 W. The power supply and the data acquisition are set to start synchronously. Consequently, the ignition delay can be obtained as shown in gure 18. The ignition delay is 0.0412 s with the ignition energy estimated to be 0.0111 J. According to the experiments, the success rate of ignition is high (over 80%) if the ignition voltage is equal to or more than 10 V. The failure is mainly caused by the unstable contact between the propellant and the igniter. From the electro-thermal modeling, for an ignition voltage of 10 V, the ignition delay and ignition energy are 0.0364 s and 0.0097 J, respectively. The ignition delay and ignition energy differences between testing and electrothermal modeling are within 15%. These discrepancies are probably caused by differences in the contact areas between the propellant and the igniter, non-uniformities in the propellant grain or the variation between actual thin lm Au/Ti material characteristics and those calculated in the modeling. In this study, ignition before propellant combustion is investigated at atmosphere pressure. The ignition performances are similar in vacuum [17] because the main purpose of this study is to obtain ignition delay and ignition energy, not to explore the propellant combustion process after ignition although pressure conditions are able to affect greatly the solid propellant combustion and then the microthruster thrust force and total impulse [17, 20, 21]. Ignition delay and ignition energy comparisons are performed here. Zhang [17, 20] detailed the direct comparison between measured thrust forces and modeled thrust values.

of the small size of the microthruster, the heat convection losses are negligible at median-low temperatures. Propellant temperature variations with time, space and voltage were obtained from modeling. Ignition power, ignition delay and ignition energy were derived from modeling. Although Pyrex-7740 glass has a better thermal resistance than silicon, the ignition efciency is still very low because the thin lm Au/Ti igniter is deposited directly onto the glass substrate. It was shown that a silicon dioxide insulation layer could improve the ignition efciency by reducing the leakage current. The transient Au/Ti igniter temperature was measured experimentally by measuring its resistance change. The measured transient temperatures were compared to those obtained from the electro-thermal modeling. The uncertainty in igniter temperature measurement is 5 C. The temperature difference between experiment and modeling is smaller than 8% within a voltage input time of 1 s. More effort is needed to improve the modeling and experiment accuracy and to investigate the solid propellant combustion process after ignition.

Acknowledgments
This work is funded by the NUS under grant R-265-000-150112. The authors wish to acknowledge the support of the NUS Supercomputing Center, MNSI Lab, Advanced Manufacture Lab and IMRE.

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5. Conclusion
A method was presented to estimate the temperature variation of the electrical resistivity and thermal conductivity for our thin lm Au/Ti igniter. Finite-element modeling was employed to simulate the ignition of the three-dimensional solid propellant microthruster with Au/Ti igniter. Because

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