Arc Discharge Plasma Aerodynamic Actuator

A schematic of the arc discharge plasma aerodynamic actuator is shown in figure 1. A DC surface arc discharge is generated between the anode and the cathode. In order to generate a non-uniform electric field that can reduce gas breakdown voltage, a cylindrical structure is designed for the electrodes. The electrodes are oriented in the spanwise direction, which means that the flow direction is perpendicular to the discharge current direction.1

All About Arc Discharge Plasma Aerodynamic Actuator:-

A schematic of the arc discharge plasma aerodynamic actuator.
A schematic of the arc discharge plasma aerodynamic actuator.

The power supply consists of a high-voltage pulse circuit and a high-voltage dc circuit. The output voltage of the pulse circuit can reach 90 kV, which is used for the electrical breakdown of the gas. The dc circuit is the 3 kV-4 kW power source, which is used to ignite the arc discharge.2

The plasma aerodynamic actuator consists of graphite electrodes and boron-nitride (BN) ceramic dielectric material. Three pairs of graphite electrodes are designed with the cathode-anode interval of 5mm and the individual electrode is designed as a cylindrical structure which is embedded in the BN ceramic.3

The arc discharge voltage and current are monitored by a voltage probe (P6015A, Tektronix Inc.) and a current probe with a signal amplifier (TCP312+TCPA300, Tektronix Inc.), respectively. The two signals are measured by a four-channel digital oscilloscope (DPO4104, Tektronix Inc.).4

Measurement of Voltage, Current & Power:

The voltage, current and power measurements are shown in figure 2. The gas breakdown voltage between the graphite electrodes is about 2 kV and when the input voltage provided by the power supply exceeds this value, arc discharge happens.

At the instant of gas breakdown, the voltage decreases from 2 kV to about 300 V and the current increases to about 1 A. The discharge power is calculated as 300 W. Then the voltage holds at 300 V, but the current decreases gradually. After about 0.5 s, the current sustains at about 440 mA and the discharge power holds at about 130 W.

The arc discharge can be separated into two phases, which correspond to the strong pulsed breakdown process and the steady discharge process, respectively.

Electrical characteristics of arc discharge
Figure 2. Electrical characteristics of arc discharge


  1. Mulder, M. ed., 2011. Aeronautics and astronautics. BoD–Books on Demand.
  2. Loiseau, A., Willaime, F., Demoncy, N., Hug, G. and Pascard, H., 1996. Boron nitride nanotubes with reduced numbers of layers synthesized by arc discharge. Physical Review Letters76(25), p.4737.
  3. Jin, H.Y., Wang, W., Gao, J.Q., Qiao, G.J. and Jin, Z.H., 2006. Study of machinable AlN/BN ceramic composites. Materials letters60(2), pp.190-193.
  4. Yun, W., Yinghong, L., Min, J., Huimin, S., Changbing, S. and Yikang, P., 2010. Experimental investigation into characteristics of plasma aerodynamic actuation generated by dielectric barrier discharge. Chinese Journal of Aeronautics23(1), pp.39-45.