Aug 7, 2022

Hall-Effect Thruster Utilizing Bismuth as Propellant

Posted by in category: space travel

Circa 2008

Marshall Space Flight Center.

A laboratory-model Hall-effect spacecraft thruster was developed that utilizes bismuth as the propellant. Xenon was used in most prior Hall-effect thrusters. Bismuth is an attractive alternative because it has a larger atomic mass, a larger electron-impact-ionization cross-section, and is cheaper and more plentiful.

The design of this thruster includes multiple temperature-control zones and other features that reduce parasitic power losses. Liquid bismuth (which melts at a temperature of 271°C) is supplied by a temperature-controlled reservoir to a vaporizer. The vaporizer exhausts to an anode/gas distributor inside a discharge channel that consists of a metal chamber upstream of ceramic exit rings. In the channel, bismuth ions are produced through an electron impact ionization process and accelerated as in other Hall-effect thrusters. The discharge region is heated by the discharge and an auxiliary anode heater, which is required to prevent bismuth condensation at low power levels and at thruster start-up. A xenon discharge is also used for preheating the discharge channel, but an anode heater could provide enough power to start the bismuth discharge directly.

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