When a strong electric field is applied to a fluid surface, the fluid will stretch. As the electric field strength is continually increased, a point can be reached at which the fluid can no longer resist the electrical pull. At this point a jet, or spray, of fluid will result from the emission site – a phenomenon known as electrospray. The emission of this fluid results in a minute amount of thrust. By packing tens-to-hundreds of these emission sites in an array, a scalable thruster can be built that is well suited for small satellite (typically 10s of kg or less). As a result of ongoing research into Ionic Liquid Ferrofluid Microthrusters, the Ion space propulsion laboratory has developed a series of computer simulations to model the complex interactive ferro and electro-hydrodynamics of these fluids.
Utilizing the High Magnification Imaging Setup, researchers are able to image the surface deformation of a fluid in controllable electric and magnetic fields. These images serve as a verification of the simulation performance.