2018.B.2.2. The research progress on the micro-cathode arc thruster in BICE


Jinyue Geng (1)
Xuhui Liu (1)
Xudong Wang (1)
Jun Chen (1)
Yan Shen (1)

  1. Beijing Institute of Control Engineering, China




Micro-cathode arc thruster, PIC/MCC, TOF method, magnetic field


The micro-cathode arc thruster (μCAT) is based on the physical phenomenon of vacuum (cathodic) arcs, which is developed by The George Washington University’s (GWU) Micro-propulsion and Nanotechnology Lab (MpNL) for small satellites. The μCAT system was flown on the United States Naval Academy’s BRICSat-P in May 2015 and successfully de-tumble the CubeSat to less than 1 degree/minute.

The μCAT is based on the vacuum arc process where an arc flows through a medium between two electrodes, a cathode and anode. The cathode spot, which is created by the vacuum arc, produces quasi-neutral plasma at high velocities normal to the cathode surface. The μCAT enhances the vacuum arc process by utilizing an external magnetic field to guide ions and allow for uniform erosion.

Professor Michael Keidar and his team have done a lot of experimental work to obtain a better understanding of the μCAT behaviour, plume properties, and any possible back flow. But the small size and the short time make it difficult to get more detail information by experimental tools, the numerical study will help to understand the work principle and work processes.
A modelling and experimental study is conducted to investigate the influence of magnetic field on the plasma flow characteristics of the coaxial electrode micro-cathode arc thruster (CE-μCAT) with Ti as the propellant in Beijing Institute of Control Engineering(BICE). In the modelling study, the 2D particle-in-cell (PIC) and Monte Carlo Collisions (MCC) algorithms is employed, which take into account the effects of the electric force and the Lorentz force. In the experimental study, the velocity of plasma in the plume is measured though TOF method under different magnetic fields.


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