Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering–Engineering Mechanics (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics


Lyon Bradley King


A Hall thruster, an E × B device used for in-space propulsion, utilizes an axial electric field to electrostatically accelerate plasma propellant from the spacecraft. The axial electric field is created by positively biasing the anode so that the positivelycharged ions may be accelerated (repelled) from the thruster, which produces thrust. However, plasma electrons are much smaller than ions and may be accelerated much more quickly toward the anode; if electrons were not impeded, a "short circuit" due to the electron flow would eliminate the thrust mechanism. Therefore, a magnetic field serves to "magnetize" plasma electrons internal to the thruster and confines them in gyro-orbits within the discharge channel. Without outside factors electrons would be confined indefinitely; however, electron-neutral collisions provide a mechanism to free electrons from their orbits allowing electrons to cross the magnetic field toward the anode, where this process is described by classical transport theory. To make matters worse, cross-field electron transport has been observed to be 100-1000 times that predicted by classical collisional theory, providing an efficiency loss mechanism and an obstacle for modeling and simulations in Hall thrusters.

The main difficulty in studying electron transport in Hall thrusters is the coupling that exists between the plasma and the fields, where the plasma creates and yet is influenced by the electric field. A device has been constructed at MTU’s Isp Lab, the Hall Electron Mobility Gage, which was designed specifically to study electron transport in E × B devices, where the coupling between the plasma and electric field was virtually eliminated. In this device the two most cited contributors to electron transport in Hall thrusters, fluctuation-induced transport, and wall effects, were absent. Removing the dielectric walls and plasma fluctuations, while maintaining the field environment in vacuum, has allowed the study of electron dynamics in Hall thruster fields where the electrons behave as test particles in prescribed fields, greatly simplifying the environment. Therefore, it was possible to observe any effects on transport not linked to the cited mechanisms, and it was possible to observe trends of the enhanced mobility with control parameters of electric and magnetic fields and neutral density– parameters that are not independently variable in a Hall thruster.

The result of the investigation was the observation of electron transport that was ~ 20-100 times the classical prediction. The cross-field electron transport in the Mobility Gage was generally lower than that found in a Hall thruster so these findings do not negate the possibility of fluctuations and/or wall collisions contributing to transport in a Hall thruster. However, this research led to the observation of enhanced cross-field transport that had not been previously isolated in Hall thruster fields, which is not reliant on momentum-transfer collisions, wall collisions or fluctuations.