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Published April 21, 2014 | Published
Journal Article Open

Oxygen transport in the internal xenon plasma of a dispenser hollow cathode


Reactive gases such as oxygen and water vapor modify the surface morphology of BaO dispenser cathodes and degrade the electron emission properties. For vacuum cathodes operating at fixed temperature, the emission current drops rapidly when oxygen adsorbs on top of the low work function surface. Previous experiments have shown that plasma cathodes are more resistant to oxygen poisoning and can operate with O_2 partial pressures one to two orders of magnitude higher than vacuum cathodes before the onset of poisoning occurs. Plasma cathodes used for electric thrusters are typically operated with xenon; however, gas phase barium, oxygen, and tungsten species may be found in small concentrations. The densities of these minor species are small compared with the plasma density, and thus, their presence in the discharge does not significantly alter the xenon plasma parameters. It is important, however, to consider the transport of these minor species as they may deposit on the emitter surface and affect the electron emission properties. In this work, we present the results of a material transport model used to predict oxygen fluxes to the cathode surface by solving the species conservation equations in a cathode with a 2.25 mm diameter orifice operated at a discharge current of 15 A, a Xe flow rate of 3.7 sccm, and 100 ppm of O_2. The dominant ionization process for O_2 is resonant charge exchange with xenon ions. Ba is effectively recycled in the plasma; however, BaO and O_2 are not. The model shows that the oxygen flux to the surface is not diffusion-limited; therefore, the high resistance to oxygen poisoning observed in plasma cathodes likely results from surface processes not considered here.

Additional Information

© 2014 AIP Publishing LLC. Received 13 February 2014; accepted 6 April 2014; published online 18 April 2014. The research described in this paper was carried out by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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