Publication Date

Fall 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Nikos Mourtos


ablation, Laser, polymer, polyoxymethelyne, propulsion, thruster

Subject Areas

Aerospace engineering


With an increased interest by universities, government and commercial groups in using constellations of pico and and nano satellites, the need for micro-thrusters to aid in the station-keeping capabilities has become strong. This report examines using polymers and a laser to ablate material as a potential propulsion option for station-keeping. Homopolymer polyoxymethelyne (POM), commonly known as Delrin™, was tested as a fuel for a high powered (20 Watt 980 nm) solid state diode laser ablation thruster to be used for station-keeping on pico and nano sized satellites. The experiments required a partial vacuum to reduce the effects of air decomposition and remove water vapor during the ablation event. The vacuum chamber, shadowgraph, and an impulse measurement system were all designed and built around the 20-Watt laser. Three different sample thicknesses were tested (.005", .010", and .020") to determine the behavior of the polymer. The laser was focused onto the POM sample, which was mounted to a load cell and calibrated to measure the impulse of the system imparted by the laser pulse. The calculated thrust values ranged from 600 µN to 1300 µN with a high uncertainty due to the small sample size. The exhaust plume from the ablation event was captured using a shadowgraph. A low velocity was recorded because the chamber was not a complete vacuum, causing the exhaust plume to collide with the air molecules in the test chamber. However the load cell results suggested that 1.30 mN per burst can be produced with an uncertainty of 30%. With the work outlined in this paper, POM shows the promise and challenge of being a good candidate as a fuel material. POM warrants further development and investment as a fuel to be used with a laser ablation micro-thruster.