Magnetic nozzle radiofrequency plasma thruster approaching twenty percent thruster efficiency

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Development of a magnetic nozzle radiofrequency (rf) plasma thruster has been one of challenging topics in space electric propulsion technologies. The thruster typically consists of an rf plasma source and a magnetic nozzle, where the plasma produced inside the source is transported along the magnetic field and expands in the magnetic nozzle. An imparted thrust is significantly affected by the rf power coupling for the plasma production, the plasma transport, the plasma loss to the wall, and the plasma acceleration process in the magnetic nozzle. The rf power transfer efficiency and the imparted thrust are assessed for two types of rf antennas exciting azimuthal mode number of m= + 1 and m= 0 , where propellant argon gas is introduced from the upstream of the thruster source tube. The rf power transfer efficiency and the density measured at the radial center for the m= + 1 mode antenna are higher than those for the m= 0 mode antenna, while a larger thrust is obtained for the m= 0 mode antenna. Two-dimensional plume characterization suggests that the lowered performance for the m= + 1 mode case is due to the plasma production at the radial center, where contribution on a thrust exerted to the magnetic nozzle is weak due to the absence of the radial magnetic field. Subsequently, the configuration is modified so as to introduce the propellant gas near the thruster exit for the m= 0 mode configuration and the thruster efficiency approaching twenty percent is successfully obtained, being highest to date in the kW-class magnetic nozzle rf plasma thrusters.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2768
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Dec

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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