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Erosion of Low-Temperature Co-Fired Ceramics in a Radio Frequency Inductively Coupled Plasma
Keywords: LTCC, Plasma, Erosion
In an effort to expand research in space-based micropropulsion, Boise State University is developing an ion-propulsion system designed in Low Temperature Co-fired Ceramics (LTCC). To evaluate the suitability of this materials system for an ion-propulsion system, a Design of Experiments (DOE) study is formulated to characterize, if any, the erosion of material due to ion bombardment in the proposed design. If applicable, designs to mitigate this damage can also be investigated for their effectiveness, in the future. Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP) spiral antennas, driven by a Radio Frequency (RF) power source, have been proposed as the means to generate the ions required for the thruster design. A basic ICP flat-spiral antenna design, embedded within the LTCC substrate, will be used to ignite an argon plasma at low-pressure in a vacuum chamber, for duration tests of the LTCC substrate material. The proposed three-factor DOE study includes the factors of chamber pressure, time under plasma treatment, and supplied RF power. These factors will be varied within two to three levels, dependent on experimental time constraints, and investigated for their contributions to erosion effects. The effects of the plasma exposure will be evaluated using optical profilometry techniques to determine the volume and depth of removed material. Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and applicable compositional analysis techniques may be used to further characterize exposed surface morphology. The results of the DOE study will be analyzed to develop a model of substrate erosion with respect to pressure, time, and power. Though this model may not be comprehensive, it can help to predict a maximum bound for the expected lifetime of a thruster operating at set conditions.
Alex Miller, Research Assistant
Boise State University
Boise, ID

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