Effect of magnetic and physical nozzles on plasma thruster performance

Kazunori Takahashi, Christine Charles, Rod Boswell, Akira Ando

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Plasma cross-field diffusion in a magnetic nozzle is inhibited by increasing the magnetic field strength in a helicon plasma thruster attached to a pendulum thrust balance, while maintaining constant plasma density and electron temperature in the source tube, i.e. a constant plasma injection into the magnetic nozzle, where the field strength near the radio frequency (rf) antenna is less than 210G and the operating argon pressure in the vacuum chamber is 0.8mTorr. Inhibition of the cross-field diffusion yields a higher electron pressure in the magnetic nozzle and a resultant larger thrust. The thrust component arising from the magnetic nozzle approaches the theoretical limit derived from an ideal magnetic nozzle approximation where no plasma is lost from the nozzle and there is an azimuthal plasma current originating from the electron diamagnetic drift. It is also shown that the momentum of the plasma lost from the magnetic nozzle is captured by a physical nozzle attached at the source exit resulting in a larger thrust. Two physical nozzles of different sizes (nozzle 1 : 10.5cm in length with a maximum diameter of 20cm, nozzle 2 : 26cm in length with a maximum diameter of 36cm) are tested. The maximum thrust of 20±1mN is obtained for 25sccm argon propellant and 2kW rf power with a reflection power less than 5W, which gives a specific impulse of 2750±165s and a thrust efficiency of 13.5±1.5%.

Original languageEnglish
Article number044004
JournalPlasma Sources Science and Technology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Aug 1


  • cross-field diffusion
  • helicon plasma thruster
  • magnetic nozzle
  • physical nozzle
  • plasma momentum
  • thrust measurement


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