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High Power Light Gas Helicon Plasma Source For VASMIRThe VASIMR space propulsion development effort relies on a high power (greater than 10kW) helicon source to produce a dense flowing plasma (H, D and He) target for ion cyclotron resonance (ICR) acceleration of the ions. Subsequent expansion in an expanding magnetic field (magnetic nozzle) converts ion lunetic energy to directed momentum. This plasma source must have critical features to enable an effective propulsion device. First, it must ionize most of the input neutral flux of gas, thus producing a plasma stream with a high degree of ionization for application of ICR power. This avoids propellant waste and potential power losses due to charge exchange. Next, the plasma stream must flow into a region of high magnetic field (approximately 0.5 T) for efficient ICR acceleration. Third, the ratio of input power to plasma flux must be low, providing an energy per ion-electron pair approaching 100 eV. Lastly, the source must be robust and capable of very long life-times (years). In our helicon experiment (VX-10) we have measured a ratio of input gas to plasma flux near 100%. The plasma flows from the helicon region (B approximately 0.1 T) into a region with a peak magnetic field of 0.8 T. The energy input per ion-electron pair has been measured at 300 plus or minus 100 eV. Recent results at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) show an enhanced efficiency mode of operation with a high power density, over 5 kW in a 5 cm diameter tube. Our helicon is presently 9 cm in diameter and operates up to 3.5 kW of input power. An upgrade to a power level of 10 kW is underway. Much of our recent work has been with a Boswell double-saddle antenna design. We are also converting the antenna design to a helical type. With these modifications, we anticipate an improvement in the ionization efficiency. This paper presents the results from scaling the helicon in the VX-10 device from 3.5 to 10 kW. We also compare the operation with a double-saddle to a helical antenna design. Finally, we discuss modeling of these configurations using ORNL's EMIR code.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Johnson Space Center
Document Type
Conference Paper
Squire, J. P.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Chang-Diaz, F. R.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Glover, T. W.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Jacobson, V. T.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
McCaskill, G. E.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Winter, D. S.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Baity, F. W.
(Oak Ridge National Lab. TN, United States)
Carter, M. D.
(Oak Ridge National Lab. TN, United States)
Goulding, R. H.
(Oak Ridge National Lab. TN, United States)
Date Acquired
August 23, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2004
Subject Category
Spacecraft Propulsion And Power
Meeting Information
Meeting: 7th Asia Pacific Conference on Plasma Science and Technology
Location: Fukuoka
Country: Japan
Start Date: June 29, 2004
End Date: July 2, 2004
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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