Ion ejection from a permanent-magnet mini-helicon thruster
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1063/1.4896238
A small helicon source, 5 cm in diameter and 5 cm long, using a permanent magnet (PM) to create the DC magnetic field B, is investigated for its possible use as an ion spacecraft thruster. Such ambipolar thrusters do not require a separate electron source for neutralization. The discharge is placed in the far-field of the annular PM, where B is fairly uniform. The plasma is ejected into a large chamber, where the ion energy distribution is measured with a retarding-field energy analyzer. The resulting specific impulse is lower than that of Hall thrusters but can easily be increased to relevant values by applying to the endplate of the discharge a small voltage relative to spacecraft ground.