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Published July 2015 | Published
Journal Article Open

Battery-powered pulsed high density inductively coupled plasma source for pre-ionization in laboratory astrophysics experiments


An electrically floating radiofrequency (RF) pre-ionization plasma source has been developed to enable neutral gas breakdown at lower pressures and to access new experimental regimes in the Caltech laboratory astrophysics experiments. The source uses a customized 13.56 MHz class D RF power amplifier that is powered by AA batteries, allowing it to safely float at 3–6 kV with the electrodes of the high voltage pulsed power experiments. The amplifier, which is capable of 3 kW output power in pulsed (<1 ms) operation, couples electrical energy to the plasma through an antenna external to the 1.1 cm radius discharge tube. By comparing the predictions of a global equilibrium discharge model with the measured scalings of plasma density with RF power input and axial magnetic field strength, we demonstrate that inductive coupling (rather than capacitive coupling or wave damping) is the dominant energy transfer mechanism. Peak ion densities exceeding 5 × 10^(19) m^(−3) in argon gas at 30 mTorr have been achieved with and without a background field. Installation of the pre-ionization source on a magnetohydrodynamically driven jet experiment reduced the breakdown time and jitter and allowed for the creation of hotter, faster argon plasma jets than was previously possible.

Additional Information

© 2015 AIP Publishing LLC. Received 24 February 2015; accepted 29 June 2015; published online 15 July 2015. This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Fusion Energy Sciences under Award Nos. DE-FG02-04ER54755 and DE-SC0010471 and by the National Science Foundation under Award No. 1059519. V. H. Chaplin acknowledges support by the ORISE Fusion Energy Sciences Graduate Fellowship.

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