Hollow cathodes have a good flight heritage having been used since late ‘60s onboard of Hall Effect Thrusters (HETs) and Gridded Ion Engines (GIEs). Their use as standalone thrusters (HCTs) has been extensively investigated since the year 2000.
Nowadays one of the most important characteristic in space missions is the flexibility of the thruster module in terms of performances. HCTs are unique in these terms since they can be used in three different modes hence providing three degrees of built in redundancy:
Preliminary tests at Aerospazio on a QinetiQ T5 HCT showed:
In the frame of an ESA TRP project Mars Space Ltd and QinetiQ have developed an HCT for East-West Station Keeping on board of Communication Satellites.
An optimized QinetiQ T6 HCT has been designed. The thruster does not present any critical modification with respect to a conventional QinetiQ T6 cathode and hence inheriting its robustness and reliability and will have significantly shorter route to qualification than a new thruster development.
The T6 HCT has been tested at Aerospazio and University of Southampton showing to outperform the study requirements: