Skip to Main Content
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is currently assessing the applicability of the 25-cm Xenon Ion Propulsion System (XIPS) as part of an effort to infuse low-cost technically mature commercial ion thruster systems into NASA deep space missions. Since these mission require extremely long thruster lifetimes to attain the required mission DeltaV, this paper is focused on understanding the dominate wear mechanisms that effect the life of the XIPS three-grid system. Analysis of the XIPS three-grid configuration with JPL's CEX3D grid erosion model shows that the third ldquodecelrdquo grid effectively protects the accel grid from pits and grooves erosion that is commonly seen with two-grid ion thruster grid systems. For a three-grid system, many of the charge-exchange ions created downstream of the grid plane will impact the decel grid at relatively low energies ( ~25 V), instead of impacting the accel grid at high energies ( ~200 V), thus reducing overall erosion. JPL's CEX3D accurately predicts the erosion patterns for the accel grid, although it appears to overpredict the pits and grooves erosion rates due, mainly, to uncertainties in incident energies and angles for sputtering ions and since it does not account for local redeposition of sputtered material. Since the model accurately simulates the erosion pattern but tends to overpredict the erosion rates for both the two- and three-grid sets, this comparative analysis clearly shows how the decel grid significantly suppresses the erosion of the downstream surface of the accel grid as observed in experimental tests. The results also show that the decel grid has a relatively small effect on barrel erosion (erosion of the aperture wall) and erosion of the upstream surface of the accel grid. Decreasing the accel grid voltage of the XIPS can reduce barrel (and total) erosion of the accel grid and should be considered for high-DeltaV missions.