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Non-uniform Erosion and Surface Evolution of Plasma-Facing Materials for Electric Propulsion

  • Author(s): Matthes, Christopher Stanley Rutter
  • Advisor(s): Ghoniem, Nasr M
  • et al.

A study regarding the surface evolution of plasma-facing materials is presented. Experimental efforts were performed in the UCLA Pi Facility, designed to explore the physics of plasma-surface interactions. The influence of micro-architectured surfaces on the effects of plasma sputtering is compared with the response of planar samples. Ballistic deposition of sputtered atoms as a result of geometric re-trapping is observed. This provides a self-healing mechanism of micro-architectured surfaces during plasma exposure. This result is quantified using a QCM to demonstrate the evolution of surface features and the corresponding influence on the instantaneous sputtering yield. The sputtering yield of textured molybdenum samples exposed to 300 eV Ar plasma is found to be roughly 1 of the 2 corresponding value of flat samples, and increases with ion fluence. Mo samples exhibited a sputtering yield initially as low as 0.22�8%, converging to 0.4�8% at high fluence. Although the yield is dependent on the initial surface structure, it is shown to be transient, reaching a steady-state value that is independent of initial surface conditions. A continuum model of surface evolution resulting from sputtering, deposition and surface diffusion is also derived to resemble the damped Kuramoto-Sivashinsky (KS) equation of non-linear dynamics. Linear stability analysis of the evolution equation provides an estimate of the selected wavelength, and its dependence on the ion energy and angle of incidence. The analytical results are confirmed by numerical simulations of the equation with a Fast Fourier Transform method. It is shown that for an initially flat surface, small perturbations lead to the evolution of a selected surface pattern that has nano- scale wavelength. When the surface is initially patterned by other means, the final resulting pattern is a competition between the “templated” pattern and the “self-organized” structure. Potential future routes of research are also discussed, corresponding to a design analysis of the current experimental study.

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