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SBIR/STTR

Long Life Cathode Heaters for Hollow Cathodes, Phase I

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Present and future NASA missions, including the Asteroid Redirect Mission and efficient cargo delivery to mars, require a substantial increase in lifetime for ion engines and Hall thrusters. This has led to the development of long-life lanthanum hexaboride (LaB6) hollow cathode emitters, which operate at temperatures >1600⁰C. Current state-of-the-art co-axial swaged cathode heaters use magnesium oxide (MgO) insulators, which experience a significant drop in insulation resistance at temperatures of 1300⁰C, causing heater failure. Hollow cathode failure caused by the failure of an external cathode heater is the single most critical event that controls the thruster lifetime. While alumina (Al2O3) has recently been used as a replacement insulator material, it has questionable reliability due to grain growth and void formation at temperatures >1600⁰C. In Phase I, we will formulate a new ceramic insulator using sound scientific principles, and develop a long-life cathode heater that can operate reliably at high power levels (>200 W) at high temperatures greater than 1600⁰C for use in long duration space propulsion missions. We will design, fabricate and test prototype swaged coaxial heaters to demonstrate the superior performance of the new insulators. More »

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