Measurement of plasma parameters in the exhaust of a magnetoplasma rocket by gridded energy analyzer and emissive Langmuir probe
Glover, Timothy Ward
Chan, Anthony Arthur
Doctor of Philosophy
The 10 kilowatt prototype of the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) engine, abbreviated as VX-10, is designed to eject plasma at exhaust velocities of tens of kilometers per second. In this device, energy is imparted to the plasma ions by two mechanisms: ion cyclotron resonant heating (ICRH), and acceleration in an ambipolar electric field. Measurements from two different electrostatic probes are combined to determine how much each mechanism contributes to the total ion energy. The first probe is a gridded retarding potential analyzer (RPA) that incorporates a multi-channel collimator to obtain precise measurement of the ion and electron parallel energy distributions. The second is an emissive Langmuir probe that measures the DC and RF components of the plasma potential. The plasma potential obtained from the emitting probe allows calculation of the parallel velocity distribution once the parallel energy distribution is obtained from the energy analyzer data. Biasing the RPA housing is shown to minimize the plasma perturbation, as monitored by an auxiliary probe. When this minimization is done, the RPA measurements become compatible with the emissive probe's measurement of plasma potential. The collimated RPA and emissive probe have been used to examine the effects of a double dual half-turn (DDHT) antenna encircling the plasma. When power at the ion cyclotron frequency is applied, changes are seen in the saturation current and mean ion energy of the collimated RPA characteristic. The evolution of these changes as the RPA is moved downstream from the antenna is interpreted as firm evidence of ion cyclotron heating, albeit at absorbed energies of less than 1 electronvolt per ion. The emissive probe shows that, within experimental error, all of the increased ion energy is accounted for by an increase in the plasma potential that occurs when the ICRF power is applied. The combined RPA and emissive probe data also show that there is a jet of flowing plasma in the VX-10 when operated with the helicon source alone but that the signal from this jet is overwhelmed by a rapidly growing stationary plasma within the first second of the discharge.
Aerospace engineering; Plasma physics