Microplasma Heaterless Fast Start Hollow Cathode

uah p 17027

Docket: UAH-P-17027


Current electric propulsion (EP) systems such as Hall Effect thrusters and ion engines utilize resistive heater and thermionic insert based hollow cathodes to provide electrons for ionization and beam neutralization. The resistive heater draws the largest amount of power out of the entire system. The heaters also require a long startup time, which is undesirable when rapid ignition is required. There have been attempts to develop heaterless cathodes using just an insert material. However, standard thermionic insert materials have high deterioration rates and are susceptible to poisoning, resulting in short lifespans.

Researchers at UAH have developed a new heaterless and insertless cathode that utilizes microplasma to generate energetic and high-density plasma with minimal power. This technology can greatly reduce the overall power requirements of EP systems. Reducing the power needed for the EP system means that smaller spacecraft that once could not fulfill the power requirements, such as small satellites, can now utilize these thrusters. 

This technology developed at UAH can open the door to EP for small power-limited spacecraft. Not only would these systems be beneficial to small satellites, but also implementing a heaterless insertless cathode onto any spacecraft could be beneficial due to the decreased power consumption, which would allow for a lower weight, or simpler design. 


  • Aerospace industry
  • Satellites
  • Electric propulsion


  • Heaterless
  • Insertless
  • Low power consumption
  • Weight savings


  • State of Development: Prototype
  • Licensing Status: Available for licensing
  • Patent status: Patent Pending