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


Development of alternative propellants for Hall thruster operation is an active area of research. Xenon is the current propellant of choice for Hall thrusters, but can be costly in large thrusters and for extended test periods. Condensible propellants may offer an alternative to xenon, as they will not require costly active pumping to remove from a test facility, and may be less expensive to purchase. A method has been developed which uses segmented electrodes in the discharge channel of a Hall thruster to divert discharge current to and from the main anode and thus control the anode temperature. By placing a propellant reservoir in the anode, the evaporation rate, and hence, mass flow of propellant can be controlled.

Segmented electrodes for thermal control of a Hall thruster represent a unique strategy of thruster design, and thus the performance of the thruster must be measured to determine the effect the electrodes have on the thruster. Furthermore, the source of any changes in thruster performance due to the adjustment of discharge current between the shims and the main anode must be characterized.

A Hall thruster was designed and constructed with segmented electrodes. It was then tested at anode voltages between 300 and 400 V and mass flows between 4 and 6 mg/s, as well as 100%, 75%, 50%, 25%, and <5% of the discharge current on the shim electrodes. The level of current on the shims was adjusted by changing the shim voltage. At each operating point, the thruster performance, plume divergence, ion energy, and multiply charged ion fraction were measured

performance exhibited a small change with the level of discharge current on the shim electrodes. Thrust and specific impulse increased by as much as 6% and 7.7%, respectively, as discharge current was shifted from the main anode to the shims at constant anode voltage. Thruster efficiency did not change. Plume divergence was reduced by approximately 4 degrees of half-angle at high levels of current on the shims and at all combinations of mass flow and anode voltage. The fraction of singly charged xenon in the thruster plume varied between approximately 80% and 95% as the anode voltage and mass flow were changed, but did not show a significant change with shim current. Doubly and triply charged xenon made up the remainder of the ions detected. Ion energy exhibited a mixed behavior. The highest voltage present in the thruster largely dictated the most probable energy; either shim or anode voltage, depending on which was higher. The overall change in most probable ion energy was 20-30 eV, the majority of which took place while the shim voltage was higher than the anode voltage. The thrust, specific impulse, plume divergence, and ion energy all indicate that the thruster is capable of a higher performance output at high levels of discharge current on the shims. The lack of a change in efficiency and fraction of multiply charged ions indicate that the thruster can be operated at any level of current on the shims without detrimental effect, and thus a condensible propellant thruster can control the anode temperature without a decrease in efficiency or a change in the multiply charged ion fraction.