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


Hall-effect thruster (HET) cathodes are responsible for the generation of the free electrons necessary to initiate and sustain the main plasma discharge and to neutralize the ion beam. The position of the cathode relative to the thruster strongly affects the efficiency of thrust generation. However, the mechanisms by which the position affects the efficiency are not well understood. This dissertation explores the effect of cathode position on HET efficiency. Magnetic field topology is shown to play an important role in the coupling between the cathode plasma and the main discharge plasma. The position of the cathode within the magnetic field affects the ion beam and the plasma properties of the near-field plume, which explains the changes in efficiency of the thruster.

Several experiments were conducted which explored the changes of efficiency arising from changes in cathode coupling. In each experiment, the thrust, discharge current, and cathode coupling voltage were monitored while changes in the independent variables of cathode position, cathode mass flow and magnetic field topology were made. From the telemetry data, the efficiency of the HET thrust generation was calculated. Furthermore, several ion beam and plasma properties were measured including ion energy distribution, beam current density profile, near-field plasma potential, electron temperature, and electron density. The ion beam data show how the independent variables affected the quality of ion beam and therefore the efficiency of thrust generation. The measurements of near-field plasma properties partially explain how the changes in ion beam quality arise.

The results of the experiments show that cathode position, mass flow, and field topology affect several aspects of the HET operation, especially beam divergence and voltage utilization efficiencies. Furthermore, the experiments show that magnetic field topology is important in the cathode coupling process. In particular, the magnetic field separatrix plays a critical role in impeding the coupling between cathode and HET. Suggested changes to HET thruster designs are provided including ways to improve the position of the separatrix to accommodate the cathode.