Cathode heaters for ion thrusters

Kamet is a proud supplier of thermionic cathode heaters for electric propulsion systems in leading edge aerospace industries. Our cathode heaters ensure the correct temperature is reached for the excitation energy required to initiate plasma flow (up to 1600°C). Furthermore, a second neutralizer cathode assembly is usually present on the outside of the spacecraft to neutralize the emitted beam, thus avoiding damage to the external structure. Each of these critically important thermionic cathodes require a heater for operation.

Product summery

  • High operating temperature to attain plasma ignition in vacuum
  • Made of refractory alloys to withstand environmental challenges
  • Efficient and durable enough for thousands of heat cycles
  • Performance consistency
  • Advanced testing methods available to validate integrity

Cathode heater design, features and properties

Kamet, in partnership with our suppliers ARi Industries and Okazaki, has succeeded in developing prized and highly miniaturized cathode heaters that utilize the latest materials and technological trends. We have found the refractory (exotic) alloys to be the most suitable.

Our cathode heaters are essentially a specialized microheater coiled around the cathode.

Kamet’s cathode heaters are designed to withstand the extreme environmental challenges of deep space (temperature, pressure, vacuum), while being durable enough for thousands of heat cycles at the required temperatures for plasma ignition (up to 1600 °C). In fact the lifetime and durability of an ion thruster is for a large part dependent on its cathode heaters.

Coiled Cathode heater for ion thrusters

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Kamet’s cathode heaters

In this highly specialized field, there is seldom one standard solution. Kamet Heating can guide you during the entire process of designing, developing and testing customized cathode heater assemblies. The quality of the end product is ensured, partly due to the full traceability but also on account of the wide range of recognized tests that we can perform in house. These include:

  • Insulation compaction density
  • Burn-in test
  • Dielectric strength
  • Weight
  • First Article Inspection Report
  • Final Manufacturing Report
  • Vibration
  • Acceleration
  • Material certificate
  • Helium leak
  • Radiographic analysis
  • Lead attachment strength (pull test)
  • Visual & mechanical examination
  • Conductor resistance
  • Insulation resistance
  • Mechanical shock
  • Pyrotechnic shock
  • Humidity
  • Hot firing
  • Electrical cycling
  • Thermal cycling
  • Destructive visual analysis

Example of Ion thruster with cathode tube heater shownExample of Ion thruster with cathode tube heater shown

Example of Ion thruster with heater cross section again wrapped aroundExample of Ion thruster with heater cross section again wrapped around

Why do business with Kamet?

Over the years Kamet has sold over a thousand cathode heaters to Europe’s leading aerospace companies. We are the exclusive distributor for the European market of two leading mineral insulated heating solutions manufacturers: Okazaki Manufacturing Company and ARi Industries.

We bring not only our own extensive experience and knowhow to each project, but we also have the full support and partnership of these manufacturers. Thanks to our joint commitment to innovation, Kamet can bring our clients the certainty that our cathode heaters keep up with the very latest developments. An example would be the way in which ARi are pushing the boundaries for the maximum number of heat cycles as well as raising the cathode heater temperatures from 1400°C to 1600°C. Truly a leading edge manufacturer.

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Rocket launch
Brochure of MI heating for aerospace