On collisionless ion and electron populations in the magnetic nozzle experiment (MNX)

Samuel A. Cohen, Xuan Sun, Nathaniel M. Ferraro, Earl E. Scime, Mahmood Miah, Sy Stange, Nicholas S. Siefert, Robert F. Boivin

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35 Scopus citations


The Magnetic Nozzle Experiment (MNX) is a linear magnetized helicon-heated plasma device, with applications to advanced spacecraft-propulsion methods and solar-corona physics. This paper reviews ion and electron energy distributions measured in MNX with laser-induced fluorescence (LIF) and probes, respectively. Ions, cold and highly collisional in the main MNX region, are accelerated along a uniform magnetic field to sonic then supersonic speeds as they exit the main region through either mechanical or magnetic apertures. A sharp decrease in density downstream of the aperture(s) helps effect a transition from collisional to collisionless plasma. The electrons in the downstream region have an average energy somewhat higher than that in the main region. From LIF ion-velocity measurements, we find upstream of the aperture a presheath of strength Δφps = mrTe, where mrTe is the electron temperature in the main region, and length ∼3 cm, comparable to the ion-neutral mean-free-path; immediately downstream of the aperture is an electrostatic double layer of strength ΔφDL = 3-10 mrTe and length 0.3-0.6 cm, 30-600λD. The existence of a small, ca. 0.1%, superthermal electron population with average energy ∼10mrTe is inferred from considerations of spectroscopic line ratios, floating potentials, and Langmuir probe data. The superthermal electrons are suggested to be the source for the large ΔφDL.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)792-803
Number of pages12
JournalIEEE Transactions on Plasma Science
Issue number3 PART 2
StatePublished - 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Nuclear and High Energy Physics
  • Condensed Matter Physics


  • Double layer
  • Helicon
  • Laser-induced-fluorescence (LIF)
  • Magnetic nozzle


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