Spectroscopic measurements of ion/neutral density ratio profiles are made inside the high-current, low-pressure discharge of a coaxial magnetoplasmadynamic thruster and show the existence of a thin ionization front, upstream in the discharge, that effectively ionizes the incoming gas to ionization levels above 50%. The measurements allow an estimate of the width of this ionization front to be on the order of a few millimeters. Due to the known existence of microturbulence in the plasma, which can produce suprathermal electrons, an explanation of the measurements based on the existence of a suprathermal tail in the electron energy distribution function is sought. A theoretical model for the width of the ionization front is combined with a multilevel excitation model for argon and shows that a Maxwellian electron distribution function cannot account for the small length scale of the ionization front, and that the latter is more consistent with an electron distribution function having a suprathermal population, the magnitude of which is estimated by comparing the model to the experiments.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Condensed Matter Physics