Login| Sign Up| Help| Contact|

Patent Searching and Data


Title:
ION THRUSTER
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/113617
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
The present invention relates to an ion thruster (1) for propulsion of spacecrafts, comprising: a reservoir (2) for a propellant (3), an emitter (4) for emitting ions (3+) of the propellant (3), the emitter (4) having one or more projections (11) of porous material and a base (12) with a first side (121) supporting said projections (11) and a second side (122) connected to the reservoir (2), and an extractor (5) facing the emitter (4) for extracting and accelerating the ions (3+) from the emitter (4), wherein the base (12) is impermeable to the propellant (3) at least on said first side (121) and has pores (13) or channels (14) for providing flow of propellant (3) from the reservoir (2) to said projections (11).

Inventors:
BULDRINI, Nembo (Esterhazy-Wohnpark 5/14, 2486 Pottendorf, 2486, AT)
PLESESCU, Florin (Krumpoeckgasse 10, 2700 Wiener Neustadt, 2700, AT)
Application Number:
AT2018/060159
Publication Date:
June 20, 2019
Filing Date:
July 24, 2018
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
ENPULSION GMBH (Viktor Kaplan-Straße 2, 2700 Wiener Neustadt, 2700, AT)
International Classes:
F03H1/00
Domestic Patent References:
WO1999063222A11999-12-09
Foreign References:
US20130228700A12013-09-05
US20120144796A12012-06-14
US20050257515A12005-11-24
US20110192968A12011-08-11
US20090114838A12009-05-07
AT500412A12005-12-15
US4328667A1982-05-11
US20160297549A12016-10-13
Other References:
K. HUHN ET AL.: "Colloid Emitters in Photostructurable Polymer Technology: Fabrication and Characterization Progress Report", IEPC- 2015-120, July 2015 (2015-07-01)
D. KREJCI ET AL.: "Design and Characterization of a Scalable Ion Electrospray Propulsion System", IEPC-2015-149, July 2015 (2015-07-01)
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
WEISER & VOITH PATENTANWÄLTE PARTNERSCHAFT (Kopfgasse 7, 1130 Wien, 1130, AT)
Download PDF:
Claims:
Claims :

1. An ion thruster for propulsion of spacecrafts, com prising :

a reservoir (2) for a propellant (3),

an emitter (4) for emitting ions (3+) of the propellant (3), the emitter (4) having one or more projections (11) of po rous material and a base (12) with a first side (12i) support ing said projections (11) and a second side (122) connected to the reservoir (2), and

an extractor (5) facing the emitter (4) for extracting and accelerating the ions (3+) from the emitter (4),

characterised in that

the base (12) is impermeable to the propellant (3) at least on said first side (12i) and has pores (13) or channels (14) for providing flow of propellant (3) from the reservoir

(2) to said projections (11) .

2. The ion thruster according to claim 1, wherein the base (12) is made of a material impermeable to the propellant

(3) .

3. The ion thruster according to claim 1 or 2 , wherein the pores (13) or channels (14) of the base (12) are covered with a material that is wettable by the propellant (3) .

4. The ion thruster according to any one of claims 1 to 3, wherein said first side (12i) is coated with a coating (15) impermeable to the propellant (3) .

5. The ion thruster according to claim 4, wherein the coating (15) extends over an adjacent portion (16) of each pro- j ection ( 11 ) .

6. The ion thruster according to claim 4 or 5 , wherein the coating (15) extends over an adjacent portion (17) of the reservoir (2) .

7. The ion thruster according to any one of claims 4 to 6, wherein the coating (15) is repellent to the propellant (3) .

8. The ion thruster according to any one of claims 4 to 7, wherein the coating (15) is made of an epoxy resin.

9. The ion thruster according to any one of claims 4 to 8, wherein the base (12) and the projections (11) are made of porous tungsten.

10. The ion thruster according to any one of claims 1 to 9, wherein the projections (11) are needle-shaped.

11. The ion thruster according to any one of claims 1 to 10, wherein the emitter (4) has a multitude of projections (11) arranged in a circle on said first side (12i) .

12. The ion thruster according to any one of claims 1 to 11, wherein the reservoir (2) comprises an internal propellant guiding structure (18) which leads to said second side (122) of the base (12) .

Description:
Ion Thruster

The present invention relates to an ion thruster for pro pulsion of spacecrafts, comprising a reservoir for a propel lant, an emitter for emitting ions of the propellant, the emit ter having one or more projections of porous material and a base with a first side supporting said projections and a second side connected to the reservoir, and an extractor facing the emitter for extracting and accelerating the ions from the emit ter .

Increased sophistication of missions for pico- and nano satellites or general spacecrafts requires efficient and light weight propulsion systems. For proper attitude, magnetorquers , tethers or reaction wheels are insufficient and do not allow, e.g., flight formation or any other mission which requires change of speed (Dn) capabilities. Small spacecrafts with tight power and mass budgets are reluctant to embed chemical or cold- gas based propulsion systems due to their limited specific im pulse .

Electric propulsion systems offer a promising alternative. Avoiding moving parts drastically reduces system complexity and thus guarantees high reliability and durability. For example, ion thrusters and in particular field-emission electric propul sion (FEEP) systems are highly attractive for missions with in creased specific impulse demands.

Ion thrusters create thrust by electrically accelerating ions as propellant; such ions can be generated, e.g. from neu- tral gas (usually xenon) ionized by extracting electrons out of the atoms, from liquid metal, or from an ionic liquid. Field- emission electric propulsion (FEEP) systems are based on field ionization of a liquid metal (usually either caesium, indium, gallium or mercury) . Colloid ion thrusters, also known as elec trospray thrusters, use ionic liquid (usually room temperature molten salts) as propellant.

The emission sites of ion thrusters are projections which have the shape of cones, pyramids, triangular prisms, or the like. To achieve the strong electric field necessary for ion extraction, the projections are sharp-tipped or sharp-edged to utilize the field-concentrating effect of the tip or edge.

Applying a strong electric field to such a sharp tip or edge causes the formation of a so-called Taylor cone on top of the tip or edge of the emitter's projection. In FEEP ion thrusters, neutral atoms of liquid metal at the apex of the Taylor cone evaporate from the surface. In the strong electric field between the emitter and the extractor, due to field emis sion negative electrons tunnel back to the surface, changing the formerly neutral atoms to positively charged ions. The thusly created ions are extracted from the Taylor cone and ac celerated by the electric field. This principle of creating positive ions and accelerating them by the very same electric field is used to generate thrust. In colloid ion thrusters, al ready charged ions of an ionic liquid are extracted from the Taylor cone and accelerated by the electric field. The thrust can be controlled by the strength of the electric field. The sharper the emission site, the smaller is the base of the Tay lor cone, leading to a higher efficiency of the thruster at any given ion current .

For transporting propellant to the sharp tip or edge of each projection passive forces, like capillary effects, and/or external forces, like pressure differences or centrifugal forces, are employed.

Three different types of emitters for transporting and emitting propellant are known. Firstly, emitters with solid projections, e.g. needles, are used, wherein the emitter and its projections have surfaces which are wetted by the propel lant. Due to adhesion on the wetting surface of the emitter, the emitter and each projection is covered with a film of pro pellant. This technology is particularly attractive in terms of performance as the propellant flow impedance is high, but is also very prone to contamination or any effects that could com promise or disrupt the propellant film. Solid emitter projec tions of this type are known, e.g., from US 2011/192968 A1 or US 2009/114838 A1 for colloid ion thruster applications.

Secondly, nozzle-type emitters with projections penetrated by capillary channels are used for propellant transport. Such capillary emitters have the advantage that the projections are resistant to contamination and the manufacturing is simple and reliable. This type of projections is known, e.g., from AT 500 412 A1 , US 4 328 667 B for FEEP ion thrusters or from K. Huhn et al, "Colloid Emitters in Photostructurable Polymer Technol- ogy: Fabrication and Characterization Progress Report" IEPC- 2015-120, July 2015 for a salt-based colloid ion thruster. How ever, the exit opening of the capillary needs a minimum diame ter mainly governed by manufacturing capabilities, thus leading to a larger Taylor cone and, hence, to lower efficiency in terms of thrust per propellant mass, i.e. a smaller specific impulse. To at least partly counteract this disadvantage, it is known from the cited prior art to cover the tips of the chan nelled projections with a material that is not wettable by the propellant to reduce the size of the Taylor cone.

Thirdly, porous emitters are known, e.g. from US 2016/0297549 A1 or D. Krejci et al . , "Design and Characteriza tion of a Scalable Ion Electrospray Propulsion System" , IEPC- 2015-149, July 2015 for ionic liquid ion thrusters. The mate rial of the porous emitters and the projections thereof is wet ting in respect to the propellant used. Such porous emitters combine the advantages of said first and second types of emit ters as the porous projections transport high volume of propel lant both inside and on their outer surfaces and allow for sharp tips or edges. Hence, porous projections offer both high specific impulse and robustness against contamination and the ion thrust can be precisely controlled. Using such porous emit ters in long-term operation may, however, lead to undesirable loss of propellant or other functional and performance degrada tion or impairment which sometimes even causes a system break- down . It is thus an object of the present invention to provide an ion thruster which is not only efficient and reliable but also durable.

This object is achieved with an ion thruster specified at the outset, which is distinguished in that the base is imperme able to the propellant at least on said first side supporting said projections and has pores or channels for providing flow of propellant from the reservoir to said projections.

The invention is based on the finding that the functional degradation or impairment as well as the loss of propellant in porous emitter type thrusters is a consequence of uncontrolled accumulation of propellant on the base between and around the porous projections due to propellant seeping through the base. This also leads to system breakdown in long-term operation. By making said first side of the base entirely impermeable to pro pellant, said seeping through the base and the accumulation of propellant can effectively be prevented and functional degrada tion or system breakdown can be avoided in the long-run as well as during manufacturing and ground-handling. Still, the advan tage of the porous projections in terms of specific impulse and robustness against contamination is maintained.

In an advantageous embodiment, the entire base is made of a material impermeable to the propellant. Such a base can be manufactured easily and is reliable in use. While being imper meable for the propellant, the base is provided with porous or open channels connecting the projections with the reservoir for providing the necessary flow of propellant. Preferably, the pores or channels of the base are covered with a material that is wettable by the propellant, which in tensifies the capillary effect for ensuring passive propellant flow .

Alternatively or in addition thereto, it is favourable when said first side is coated with a coating impermeable to the propellant. Thereby, the base can be manufactured from a wide variety of materials - even from the same, particularly porous, material as the projections, which effectuates a very smooth flow of propellant. Nevertheless, the coating is en tirely impermeable to the propellant, i.e., when made of porous material, the pores are blocked by the coating. If desired, the base and the projections can be a single, unitary piece of po rous material manufactured in one step or, on the other hand, be separately manufactured and then connected, e.g. by additive manufacturing, welding or the like.

In a particularly preferred embodiment thereof, the coat ing extends over an adjacent portion of each projection. Hence, the projections can be arranged closer to one another on the base without accumulation of propellant between the projec tions. While keeping the same maximum thrust of the ion thruster, the size of the emitter can thereby be further re duced .

To prevent propellant from leaking at the connection of the emitter to the reservoir, it is beneficial when the coating extends over an adjacent portion of the reservoir. The coating can be made of a wide variety of materials which also depend on the propellant. Preferably, said coating is also repellent to the propellant. Such a coating which is repellent to the propellant, i.e. non-wetting, prevents possi ble dripping of propellant from the projections and/or creeping of propellant along the surface. Thereby, the reliability of the ion thruster is further increased. Particularly preferably, the coating is made of an epoxy resin, which has proven to be simple in use and reliable.

In a favourable embodiment the base and the projections are made of porous tungsten. Tungsten is very durable and can be produced having fine pores and sharp tips or edges. More over, when using liquid indium as propellant, tungsten also provides excellent wetting characteristics for the propellant, thereby increasing the reliable passive force of the capillary effect for transporting propellant within the ion thruster.

While the projections may be sharp-edged triangular prisms or sharp-tipped pyramids, in an advantageous embodiment the projections are needle-shaped, i.e. narrow, pointed cones. This shape effectuates a small Taylor cone and the circular cross section of the cones facilitates a homogenous flow of propel lant .

It is preferred that the emitter has a multitude of pro jections arranged in a circle on said first side. Thereby, a single circular window in the extractor can be provided to gen erate a uniform electric field for all projections simultane ously. This is easier in manufacturing and alignment with the projections than a separate window in the extractor for each projection, which is common practice for ion thrusters.

For facilitating the flow of propellant, the reservoir preferably comprises an internal propellant guiding structure which leads to said second side of the base.

The invention shall now be explained in more detail below on the basis of an exemplary embodiment thereof with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:

Figs . la and lb show an example of an ion thruster accord ing to the present invention in a top view (Fig. la) and in a detail of a longitudinal section along line A-A of Fig. la (Fig. lb), respectively;

Figs. 2a and 2b show a porous emitter projection of the ion thruster of Figs la and lb in a longitudinal section (Fig. 2a) and a detail C of Fig. 2a (Fig. 2b) ;

Figs. 3a to 3d schematically show three embodiments of the emitter of the ion thruster of Figs la and lb, in respective longitudinal sections (Figs. 3a to 3c) and a detail D of Fig. 3a (Fig . 3d) ; and

Fig. 4 shows an embodiment of a guiding structure in a propellant reservoir of the ion thruster of Figs la and lb in a perspective view.

Figs la and lb show an ion thruster 1 for propulsion of spacecrafts, particularly satellites. The ion thruster 1 com prises a reservoir 2 - herein also called tank - for a propel lant 3 (Figs. 2a and 2b) . The ion thruster 1 further comprises an emitter 4 for emitting ions 3 + of the propellant 3 and an extractor 5 facing the emitter 4 for extracting and accelerat ing the ions 3 + from the emitter 4.

The ion thruster 1 of Figs la and lb is of field-emission electric propulsion (FEEP) type. Ion thrusters 1 of this type use liquid metal as propellant 3, e.g. caesium, indium, gallium or mercury, which is ionized by field-emission as will be ex plained in greater detail below. The extractor 5 then extracts and accelerates the generated (here: positive) ions 3 + of the propellant 3 for propulsion of the spacecraft. Moreover, the ion thruster 1 also optionally comprises one or more (here: two) electron sources 10 (also known in the art as "neutraliz ers") to the sides of the emitter 4 for balancing a charging of the ion thruster 1 - and thus of the spacecraft - due to emis sion of positively charged ions 3 + .

Alternatively, the ion thruster 1 may be of colloid type using ionic liquid, e.g. room temperature molten salts, as pro pellant 3. In this case, the electron sources 10 may not be necessary, as colloid thrusters usually change polarity peri odically so that a continued self-charging of the ion thruster 1 and the spacecraft does not occur. In a further alternative, the ion thruster 1 can use gas, e.g. xenon, as propellant 3, which is again ionized by extracting electrons from the atoms.

The emitter 4 has one or more projections 11 and a base 12. The base 12 has a first side 12i supporting said projec tions 11 and a second side 12 2 connected to the reservoir 2. Each projection 11 can have the shape of a cone, a pyramid, a triangular prism, or the like and has a sharp tip 11 ' or edge (Figs. 2a to 2c), respectively, opposite the base 12. Particu larly, each projection could be needle-shaped, i.e. a narrow, pointed cone. Herein, the projections 11 are also referred to as sharp emitter structures or needles.

The emitter 4 shown in Fig. lb has a multitude of needle- shaped projections 11, which are arranged in a circle (Fig. la) on said first side 12i of the base 12. The base 12 itself is ring-shaped. Thereby, a crown- shaped emitter 4 is formed. More over, the extractor 5 has a single aperture P for emission of ions 3 + of the propellant 3 from all projection 11 of the crown-shaped emitter 4. It shall be understood, however, that other shapes of bases 12 and other shapes and arrangements of projections 11 for the emitter 4 and respective extractors 5 may alternatively be chosen. For example, extractors 5 may have a separate aperture for each projection 11 for extracting and accelerating the of ions 3 + from this very projection 11.

Fig. 2a shows a projection 11 of the present ion thruster 1, which is made of porous material, e.g., porous tungsten, for transporting propellant 3 to the tip 11' of the projection 11 via capillary forces. Between the projection 11 of the emitter 4 and the extractor 5, a strong electric field in the range of a few kilovolts (kv) is applied by means of electrodes E + , E . By applying the electric field, a so-called Taylor cone T is formed on the tip 11' of the projection 11.

In FEEP ion thrusters 1 neutral atoms of the liquid metal evaporate from the surface. In the strong electric field at the to the surface of the projection 11 due to field-emission, changing the formerly neutral atom to a positively charged ion 3 + . In case of colloid ion thrusters 1 with ionic propellant 3, this ionization is not necessary.

As shown in Fig. 2b, a further consequence of the strong electric field is that a jet J is formed on the apex of the Tailor cone T, from which the ions 3 + of the propellant 3 are extracted and then accelerated by the extractor 5 generating thrust. Due to the precision at which the voltage between the needle 3 and the extraction electrode E can be controlled, the generated thrust can be controlled with high accuracy.

Summing up, in case of FEEP the metallic propellant 3 in the tank 2 is heated above the liquefaction temperature, and capillary forces, by a combination of surface tension, (pore) geometry and wettability of the surface of the reservoir 2 and the emitter 4, feed the propellant 3 from the propellant reser voir 2 towards the emitter 4, and further towards the tips 11' of the sharp emitter structures 11. A high voltage is applied to the liquid propellant 3 with respect to a counter electrode E , surpassing the threshold of ionization locally at the in duced liquid instabilities formed by electrical stresses at the tips 11' of the sharp emitter structures 11. Propellant 3 is therefore extracted, and replenished by capillary forces from downstream .

Figs. 3a to 3c show three embodiments of the emitter 4 for use in the ion thruster 1. In all three embodiments, however the base 12 is impermeable to the propellant 3 at least on said first side 12i thereof as will be explained in detail further down. Thereby, a seeping of propellant 3 through the base 12 - at least through said first side 12i thereof - and a subse quent accumulation of propellant 3 around each projection 11 and/or between two neighbouring projections 11 is inhibited. At the same time, the base 12 itself has pores 13 or channels 14 for providing flow of propellant 3 from the reservoir 2 to said projections 11; therefore, the pores 13 or channels 14 connect the reservoir 2 to the projections 11.

In the first embodiment (Fig. 3a) of said three embodi ments (Figs. 3a to 3c), the entire base 12 is made of a mate rial which is impermeable to the propellant 3. For providing flow of propellant 3 from the reservoir 2 to the projections 11, the base 12 in this case has - open or porous - channels 14. The channels 14, when necessary, are optionally covered with a material that is wettable by the propellant 3 for easing the flow of propellant 3 by means of capillary forces.

It is understood, that in a variation of this embodiment, just a part of the base 12, i.e. the first side 12i, can be made of a material impermeable to the propellant 3, while the rest, e.g. the interior, of the base 12 could be permeable (and wettable) by the propellant 3.

In the second embodiment (Fig. 3b), said first side 12i of the base 12 is coated with a coating 15 which is impermeable to the propellant 3. The base 12 may optionally be of the same po rous material as the projections 11, in which case the pores 13 are blocked by the coating 15 on said first side 12i. The base 12 can be unitary with the projections 11 as in the example of Fig. 3b, or separate therefrom and connected, e.g., glued, ad- ditively manufactured or welded, thereto.

In the third embodiment (Fig. 3c), which can also be seen as a variation of the aforementioned second embodiment (Fig. 3b) , the propellant-impermeable coating 15 extends from the first side 12i of the base 12 over a portion 16 of each projec tion 11, which portion 16 is adjacent to said first side 12i. Hence, the coating 15 covers the lower base, i.e. the adjacent portion 16, of the projections 11 and the gap between neighbouring projections 11, i.e. said first side 12i. Thereby, also seeping of propellant 3 through said lower base of the projections 11 is prevented.

The maximum height H of the coating 15 of said portion 16 of the projection 11 is determined by the necessary flow of propellant 3 and particularly depends on the cross section of the projection 11 and its properties in respect to the propel lant 3, which in turn depend on environmental conditions such as temperature: For a projection 11 with a cross section A, whose porous properties are in a manner that a fraction pf*A is available for liquid transport of the propellant 3 with tem perature dependent density p, and which is used for emitting a current I of charged particles of an average charge-to-mass ra tio e/m and a volume flow rate per unit surface area q, the av erage local flow velocity v at the height of the termination of the coating 15 is given by (eq. 4)

For a projection 11 in the form of a cone, the average lo cal flow velocity v can be described dependent on the height h measured from the base 12 towards the tip 11' of the cone, which is described by the angle cp and radius at the base R, by

For a liquid with temperature dependent viscosity m, the volume flow rate per unit surface area q for a material with permeability K, the pressure drop DR can be expressed by

AP -——q (eq. 6

K

For a conical projection 11, the pressure drop at height h* , which is measured from the tip 11' of the conical projec tion 11 and is equivalent with the height at which the coating 15 is terminated, is given by

where DR needs to be chosen small enough to allow passive pro pellant 3 flow through the porous medium, but large enough to enable ion emission with average charge- to-mass ratio e/m re quired for the operation of the ion thruster 1.

In the third embodiment (Fig. 3c) , the propellant- impermeable coating 15 further extends from said first side 12i over an adjacent portion 17 of the reservoir 2. It shall be un derstood, that the coating 15 on the portion 17 of the reser voir 2 and the coating 15 on the portion 16 of the projection 11 are independent from each other in that the coating 15 can be extended over none of the two portions 16, 17 (resulting in the second embodiment, Fig. 3b), over one of the portions 16, 17, or over both portions 16, 17. Moreover, any such coating 15 can optionally be used together with a base 12, at least said first side 12i of which is made of material impermeable to the propellant 3 as in the first embodiment (Fig. 3a), i.e. coating said first side 12i.

In the embodiments of Figs. 3a to 3c, the base 12 is, e.g., a cuboid or a cylinder and the second side 12 2 of the base 12 connected to the reservoir 2 is opposite to the first side 12i of the base 12 which supports the projections 11. How ever, this is not necessary, as the propellant 3 could also flow through the base 12 from, e.g., a lateral side thereof. An example for such a situation is also shown in Fig. lb, where the base 12 of the crown-shaped emitter 4 is ring-shaped with an inner and an outer circumference, one or both of which being said second side 12 2 from which flow of propellant 3 from the reservoir 2 is provided to the projections 11 projecting from the top of the ring-shaped base 12, which, in this case, con stitutes said first side 12i. Moreover, the emitter 4 in the example of Fig. lb has a coating 15 according to the abovemen- tioned third embodiment (Fig. 3c) : The coating 15 extends both over the portion 16 of the projections 11 and the portion 17 of the reservoir 2.

Moreover, the propellant-impermeable coating 15 may, op tionally, also be repellent, i.e. non-wetting, to the propel- lant 3. In the present embodiments, the coating 15 is made of an epoxy resin. However, other materials which are impermeable and repellent to the propellant 3 known to the skilled person may be used for the coating 15.

Relating to Fig. 3d, the accumulation of propellant 3 is inhibited by preventing propellant 3 seeping through the base 12; this effect can be supported based on the following: The pressure Dr in a meniscus M formed by a liquid propellant 3 of surface tension g can be described by the Young/Laplace equa tion :

where Ri and R 2 are the principal radii of curvature of the me nisci M, R m is the mean curvature, and g is a function of tem perature, which, e.g. for liquid indium, can be described in the form of

Yi n -a + bt + ct 2 (eq. 2) where t is the temperature (in centigrade) and the coefficients (for liquid indium) are: a = 568; b = -0.04; c = -0.0000708.

The relationship between a contact angle Q and the Gibbs interfacial energies d between solid and gas (SV) , solid and liquid (SL) , and liquid and vapour (LV) is given by Young's equation

These relationships determine a minimum distance that two adjacent projections 11 shall be separated with, to avoid con- nection of the two menisci M formed between the base 12 and the projection 11. When the minimum distance is not kept, the force containing the meniscus M around a projection 11 would vanish as the radii increase for a meniscus M that combines with a neighbouring meniscus M into one liquid body. Hence, the nega tive pressure inside the meniscus would decrease and no forces would act that could prevent the liquid accumulation to further increase over time.

As the physical properties of the liquid change with tem perature and other environmental conditions, the extent of the minimum distance would need to account for these effects.

The possibility of avoiding the occurrence of growing liq uid accumulations in the vicinity of projections 11 and espe cially between two neighbouring projections 11 is to inhibit propellant 3 seeping through the base 12. Avoiding such accumu lations can further be supported by providing said first side 12i of the base 12 with a material that has a larger contact angle 0 R to the liquid propellant 3 compared to the material of the projections 11 (and optionally the remaining base 12), i.e. the first side 12i is repellent to the propellant 3. Hence, when the coating 15 is also repellent to the propellant 3, the projections 11 may optionally be closer to each other, as de picted in Fig. 3c.

It shall be understood that when the base 12 itself is propellant-impermeable and has a larger uniform area (not shown) and the projections 11 project from merely a sector of this area, not necessarily the whole area but only said sector around each of the projections 11, i.e. particularly between neighbouring projections 11, may be coated with said repellent material .

On the basis of Figs lb and 4 an optional internal guid ing structure 18 for the propellant 3 shall be explained.

The guiding structure 18, which is comprised by the reser voir 2, enhances the flow of propellant 3 towards said second side 12 2 of the base 12. Therefore, the propellant guiding structure 18 has good wetting characteristics with respect to the propellant 3. In case of indium as propellant 3, the guid ing structure 18 is, for example, coated with a layer 19 of tantalum. Tantalum may be applied by a gas phase process like CVD in order to form the layer 19 that is grown into the tank material creating an inseparable nanoscale surface alloy. Such tantalum layer 19 has crystalline features significantly im proving the wetting characteristics of indium on the walls of the reservoir 2.

To enhance the passive flow of propellant 3 from the res ervoir 2 towards the emitter 4, the guiding structure 18 com prises wettable guiding baffles 20, also referred to as fins, which are introduced into the reservoir 2. These fins 20 lead the propellant 3 either directly to said second side 12 2 of the base 12 of the emitter 4, or via an optional central, wettable feed tube 21 (Fig. lb) of the guiding structure 18, which it self is connected to said second side 12 2 of the base 12. The guiding structure 18 also prevents unintended propel lant movement inside the reservoir 2 when the propellant 3 is kept in liquid state.

The invention is not restricted to these specific embodi- ments described in detail herein but encompasses all variants, combinations, and modifications thereof that fall within the frame of the appended claims.