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Development and Characterization of the Heated-Anode Cathode Arc Thruster (HA-CAT) Open Access

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A modern approach to satellite based experimentation has evolved from large, multi-instrumented satellites, to cheaper, smaller, almost disposable yet still reliable small spacecrafts. These small satellites are either sent to the International Space Station (ISS) to be dropped out into low earth orbit (LEO), or dropped off as a secondary payload into various orbits. While it is cheap to have small spacecraft accomplishing these missions, the lifetime expectancy is very short. Currently there are no commercialized propulsion systems that exist to keep them flying for prolonged periods of time. Recently researched at the Micro Propulsion and Nanotechnology Lab (MPNL), at the George Washington University (GWU), have been developments of a variety of Vacuum Arc Thrusters (VAT's) dubbed Micro-Cathode Vacuum Arc Thrusters (uCATs). uCAT's provide an inert electric means of propulsion for small spacecraft. The issue with these uCATs has been their efficiency levels and low amounts of thrust that they provide. The uCATs can provide uN levels of thrust per pulse. While being proficient for small spacecrafts, an increase in thrust is highly sought for, but the improvements must retain a small footprint and low power consumption. The topic of this thesis is the development and characterization of a new type of uCAT. The interest in this new design has been conceptualized based on experiments for plasma coating techniques. By utilizing the physics of evaporation, which has been used to decrease macroparticles (MP's) for thin film deposition, it has been theorized to also be applied to VAT technology. The concept is to increase levels of thrust with the uCAT, and provide higher levels of efficiency. This effect can be created without many additional components nor multiple additional loads to the thruster subsystem. Development of this new mechanic for thruster technology has been investigated through a variety of tests for fundamental proofs of concept. Running in two operations modes, the Heated-Anode Cathode Arc Thruster (HA-CAT), has undergone current efficiency tests, mass measurements, and cross examination through the use of a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and Atomic Force Microscope (AFM). This research hopes to explore an old territory of plasma engineering for future developments with uCAT and VAT technology.

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