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High thrust-to-power ratio micro-cathode arc thruster
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The Micro-Cathode Arc Thruster (μCAT) is an electric propulsion device that ablates solid cathode material, through an electrical vacuum arc discharge, to create plasma and ultimately produce thrust in the μN to mN range. About 90% of the arc discharge current is conducted by electrons, which go toward heating the anode and contribute very little to thrust, with only the remaining 10% going toward thrust in the form of ion current. A preliminary set of experiments were conducted to show that, at the same power level, thrust may increase by utilizing an ablative anode. It was shown that ablative anode particles were found on a collection plate, compared to no particles from a non-ablative anode, while another experiment showed an increase in ion-to-arc current by approximately 40% at low frequencies compared to the non-ablative anode. Utilizing anode ablation leads to an increase in thrust-to-power ratio in the case of the μCAT.
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