Miniature ion thruster ring-cusp discharge performance and behavior

TitleMiniature ion thruster ring-cusp discharge performance and behavior
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsDankongkakul, Ben, and Richard E. Wirz
JournalJournal of Applied Physics
Date Published12/2017
AbstractMiniature ion thrusters are an attractive option for a wide range of space missions due to their low power levels and high specific impulse. Thrusters using ring-cusp plasma discharges promise the highest performance, but are still limited by the challenges of efficiently maintaining a plasma discharge at such small scales (typically 1–3 cm diameter). This effort significantly advances the understanding of miniature-scale plasma discharges by comparing the performance and xenon plasma confinement behavior for 3-ring, 4-ring, and 5-ring cusp by using the 3 cm Miniature Xenon Ion thruster as a modifiable platform. By measuring and comparing the plasma and electron energy distribution maps throughout the discharge, we find that miniature ring-cusp plasma behavior is dominated by the high magnetic fields from the cusps; this can lead to high loss rates of high-energy primary electrons to the anode walls. However, the primary electron confinement was shown to considerably improve by imposing an axial magnetic field or by using cathode terminating cusps, which led to increases in the discharge efficiency of up to 50%. Even though these design modifications still present some challenges, they show promise to bypassing what were previously seen as inherent limitations to ring-cusp discharge efficiency at miniature scales.

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