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The Z-machine, which is located at Sandia National Laboratories, is currently undergoing refurbishment to increase the output drive current. Due to increased switching voltage requirements, some switch failure modes have been identified with the laser-triggered gas switch design, including envelope surface flashover. In order to improve the performance and lifetime of these switches, a basic understanding of the underlying physics of the failure mechanisms is required. A small-scale experimental setup has been constructed to approximate conditions within the switch. The possible impact of the SF6 volume spark between the switch electrodes on the envelope surface flashover is investigated. Measured optical spectra of the SF6 volume spark over a wide pressure range, from rough vacuum to 40 psig overpressure, are analyzed regarding their potential to contribute to switch failure.
Date of Publication: Aug. 2007