A report proposes tailoring the diameters of the apertures in the accelerator grid of an ion thruster to reduce the open grid area through which un-ionized propellant gas can escape. The result would be a reduction in the loss of propellant gas and a corresponding increase in propellant efficiency. In a typical ion thruster, the plasma density decreases with radial distance from the centerline, and as a consequence, the diameters of ion beamlets decrease with increasing radial distance. According to the proposal, the apertures, through which the ion beamlets must pass, would be sized to match the diameters (with margin) of the beamlets. The decrease of the aperture diameters with radial distance would result in a significant reduction in the open grid area: In an example based on representative design parameters, the reduction could be as much as 30 percent. In this example, the transparency to un-ionized propellant would decrease from 0.24 to 0.17 and, as a result, the propellant efficiency would increase from 0.91 to 0.96.
This work was done by John Brophy of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www. techbriefs.com/tsp under the Electronics/ Computers category.