Potential Structure and Propellant Flow Rate Theory for Ion Thruster Discharge Cathode Erosion


An ion thruster discharge cathode assembly (DCA) erosion theory is presented based on near-DCA NSTAR plasma potential measurements and experimental results for propellant flow rate effects on ion number density. The plasma potential structures are utilized in an ion trajectory algorithm to determine the location and angle at the DCA keeper of bombarding ions. These results suggest that the plasma potential structure causes a chamfering of the DCA keeper orifice. Results from a diagnostic cylinder (DC) inside a multiple-cathode discharge chamber show that increasing DC propellant flow rate causes a decrease in “keeper” orifice ion number density, most likely due to chargeexchange and elastic collisions. Combining these two results, the known wear-test and extended life test (ELT) DCA erosion profiles can be qualitatively explained. Specifically, the change in the wear profile from the DCA keeper downstream face to the keeper orifice for the ELT may be a result of the reduction in DCA propellant flow rate when the thruster operating point is changed from TH15 to TH8.

Meeting Name

29th International Electric Propulsion Conference (2007: Sep. 17-20, Florence, Italy)


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

Discharge Cathode Assembly (DCA); Erosion Theory; Ion Thruster; Plasma Potential Structures

Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

Document Version


File Type





© 2005 Electric Rocket Propulsion Society / University of Michigan, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

20 Sep 2005

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