A short document summarizes the redesign of a xenon-ion spacecraft thruster to increase its operational lifetime beyond a limit heretofore imposed by nonuniform ion-impact erosion of an accelerator electrode grid. A peak in the ion current density on the centerline of the thruster causes increased erosion in the center of the grid. The ion-current density in the NSTAR thruster that was the subject of this investigation was characterized by peak-to-average ratio of 2:1 and a peak-to-edge ratio of greater than 10:1. The redesign was directed toward distributing the same beam current more evenly over the entire grid and involved several modifications of the magnetic-field topography in the thruster to obtain more nearly uniform ionization. The net result of the redesign was to reduce the peak ion current density by nearly a factor of two, thereby halving the peak erosion rate and doubling the life of the thruster. (Note: NSTAR stands for NASA SEP Technology Application Readiness; SEP stands for solar electric propulsion.)

This work was done by Dan Goebel, James Polk, Anita Sengupta, and Richard Wirz of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

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Refer to NPO-43495.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Increasing the Life of a Xenon-Ion Spacecraft Thruster

(reference NPO-43495) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the November, 2007 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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