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J. Walterξ, J. Vara, C. Lynn, J. Dickens, A. Neuber, M. Kristiansen

Center for Pulsed Power and Power Electronics
Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Texas Tech University
Box 43102
Lubbock, Texas, USA

Abstract electrons that pass through the anode with the fields in the
housing creates microwave frequency oscillations. A
During the development and optimization of a compact description of vircator sources can be found in [1].
sealed tube virtual cathode oscillator (vircator) at Texas Due to the imperfect transparency of practical anodes,
Tech University, it has become apparent that processes at the electron beam interacts with the anode surface. The
the anode have a significant impact on tube performance. impact of the high energy (100’s of keV), high current
The impact of the high energy, high current density (100- density (often greater than 100 A/cm2) beam on the anode
200 A/cm2 or higher) beam on the anode will cause causes outgassing, plasma production, melting, and even
outgassing, plasma production, and anode melting and anode material ejection. The gas and solid material
material ejection. The emitted material expands, expanding from the anode, along with material expanding
eventually impacting the anode transparency and from the cathode, eventually close the anode-cathode gap,
(combined with the plasma formed at the cathode) thus limiting the maximum radiated pulse width and peak
shorting out the anode-cathode gap. This expansion limits output power. The emitted gases also limit the maximum
the maximum radiated pulse width, and can also limit the possible repetition rate. A description of some of the
peak output power. The residual evolved gas also processes occurring at the anode can be found in [2].
negatively impacts the maximum repetition rate of the An effort is underway at Texas Tech University (TTU)
tube. to study the thermal behavior, gases evolved, and
An effort is underway to study the thermal behavior, transparency versus time for different vircator anode
gases evolved, and transparency versus time for different materials, material treatments, and geometries. To date,
vircator anode materials and material treatments. Several this effort consists of measurements on the evolved gases
different anode materials are under investigation, and some thermal evaluation. The initial experimental
including stainless steel, copper tungsten, tantalum, setup for this effort was described in [3], and most of the
nickel, and molybdenum. The effect of different results to date are described in [4].
treatments on the anodes before tube assembly is also
being studied. The gases that are evolved during operation
have been characterized utilizing pressure and residual II. EXPERIMENTAL SETUP
gas analyzer measurements. The pre-shot background
pressure in the tube is in the ultra-high vacuum range (10-8 A compact sealed-tube vircator under development at
to 10-9 Torr), and the vircator is not pumped on during Texas Tech University is described in [5]. This device is a
firing. The data collected for the different materials is triode-geometry vircator, in which the anode is pulsed and
presented. the cathode is grounded to the housing. Figure 1 shows a
drawing of the device and a picture of it mounted to the
experiment. To achieve operating pressures down to 10-9
I. INTRODUCTION Torr, ultra-high vacuum compatible materials are used in
the tube construction and it is baked out under vacuum
Vircator high power microwave (HPM) sources are before use. For single shot operation, the vircator can be
simple and robust, making them useful for a variety of operated in sealed mode, with no vacuum maintenance
compact, fieldable HPM systems. A basic vircator pumping required. For multiple shot operation, an ion
consists of two electrodes (anode and cathode) in a high pump is integrated into the tube to pump out the gas
vacuum. When a high voltage pulse is applied, electrons evolved during each shot. The vircator is contained in a
emitted from the cathode are accelerated toward the six inch diameter stainless steel housing. It uses a
anode. The anode consists of a foil or screen with some commercial glass output window and a slightly custom
transparency to the electrons. The interaction of the

email: john.walter@ttu.edu

978-1-4577-0631-8/12/$26.00 ©2011 IEEE

version of a commercial high-voltage feedthrough with a
ceramic insulator.

Figure 2. Cathode and anode

The pulsed power driver used for testing is an eight-

stage oil-insulated Marx generator using 100 nF plastic-
case Maxwell capacitors rated at 75 kV, and commercial
spark gap switches. For these experiments, the capacitors
were charged to 40kV. An overhead view into the Marx
oil tank is shown in Figure 3. The drive voltage into the
vircator was typically between 100 and 150 kV after
cathode turn-on, with drive currents ranging up to 20 kA
at gap closure.

Figure 1. The sealed-tube triode-geometry vircator

drawing (top) and mounted to the Marx generator with
RGA attached (bottom)

The cathode used in these tests was a 3 inch diameter Figure 3. Marx generator (top-view into oil tank)
aluminum disc with grooves mechanically milled into the
face, forming a 2 inch diameter emission area. The edges For the gas evolution testing, the vircator was operated
of the cathode were machined with a Bruce profile to in sealed mode with the ion pump turned off. To avoid
limit unwanted emission. The anodes used were each damage to the sensitive electronics, the RGA control box
machined out of a solid piece of material, with a 3.75 inch was disconnected before each shot. After a shot, the
overall diameter and 3.25 inch screen diameter. The control box was reconnected, and the pressure gauges in
anode holes are 0.125 inch diameter with a transparency the RGA were then used to measure the quantity of gas
of about 70%. Figure 2 shows a typical anode and evolved. Each shot would increase the pressure in the tube
cathode. The anode-cathode gap was fixed at 8 mm substantially; however, the pressure would immediately
throughout this work. begin to fall due to adsorption of the gases onto the tube
An Extorr XT100 residual gas analyzer (RGA) was surfaces. Due to the limitations of the test setup, the peak
used to measure the quantity and composition of the gases of the pressure increase could not be measured. However,
evolved during firing. This quadrupole RGA will measure to provide useful relative measurements, the pressure was
the partial pressure of gases from 1 to 100 amu to below measured at approximately the same length of time after
10-11 Torr. [6] With its control electronics enclosure every shot. The RGA was also used to measure the gas
removed, the sensor head is bakeable to 300 °C. The composition. Once the measurements were completed, the
sensor head additionally contains integrated Pirani and ion ion pump was then turned on. When the volume was
pressure gauges that allow the measurement of the pumped long enough that the pressure remained at the
pressure in the vircator volume (and, knowing the baseline pressure with the pump off (a process that could
contained volume, the quantity of gas) [3]. take up to a few days), the next shot was taken.
Table 1. Anode materials tested to date

Material Content Density Thermal Specific Melting Point

(kg/m3) Conductivity Heat (deg C)
(W/m*K) (J/kg*K)
Stainless Steel 70% Fe, 18% Cr, 8000 16.2 500 1454
304 8% Ni
Copper Tungsten 55% W, 45% Cu 12600 240 251 3240
Tantalum 99.95% Ta 16700 54.4 140 3017
Nickel 201 99% Ni 8890 90 444 1453
Molybdenum 99.95% Mo 10200 115 260 2617
OFHC Copper 99.99% Cu 8910 387 385 1084

An additional diagnostic used on the system was an breakdown, due to the deposition of anode material on the
open-shutter camera, used to take time-integrated images ceramic insulator.
of the discharge process. A standard consumer SLR
camera was used, with a long focal length lens to allow

Number of gas molecules evolved per shot

placement of the camera far enough from the vircator that
it was not affected by the experiment. The camera shutter
was manually controlled, with an open time of
approximately 10 seconds. CuW
Six different anode materials have been tested. The six Ta
materials, with some relevant material properties, are 1E16 Cu
shown in Table 1. Each anode was CNC machined from a
single piece of material. The machining process was kept
as similar as possible for each material. Each anode was
cleaned with isopropyl alcohol before assembly. To 1E15
measure the baseline performance, no other pre-treatment
was applied for the initial measurements. A later test
series used a nickel anode that had been cleaned 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
thoroughly in a mild acid solution, rinsed in deionized shot number
water, and baked at 700 °C in a vacuum oven for two days Figure 4. Total quantity of gas evolved per shot for
before tube assembly. copper tungsten, tantalum, and copper anodes

Figure 5 shows the quantity of gas evolved per shot for

III. EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS the other materials tested: stainless steel, nickel, and
molybdenum. These materials all showed a decrease in
Initial evolved gas composition and quantity results for the amount of gas produced over the first several shots,
the stainless steel anode were reported in [3]. Building on approximately leveling out to a steady state after about 10
that work, measurements were made with each of the five shots. These materials did not have a problem with
other materials. In all of the cases, the measured gas deposition on the insulator.
composition was typical of the outgassing from clean The gas evolution results for the pre-treated nickel
systems, containing gases such as hydrogen, methane, anode are also shown in Figure 5. The initial post-shot
carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. pressure for this anode was almost an order of magnitude
For each of the shots, the total number of gas molecules lower than with the other anodes; however, the pressure
was calculated from the measured pressure using the ideal that was reached after multiple conditioning shots was of
gas law. Figures 4 and 5 show results for the total quantity the same order as with the non-treated nickel and
of gas evolved for each test shot for the six materials molybdenum anodes.
tested. The amount of gas on the first shot was similar for The open-shutter pictures taken during the testing also
all of the materials. Figure 4 shows the quantity of gas showed variation between the materials. Figure 6 shows
evolved for each shot for the copper tungsten, tantalum, these images for copper tungsten and tantalum, while
and OFHC copper anodes. For these materials, the figure 7 shows the images for the stainless steel and
amount of gas per shot was fairly constant over the nickel, with molybdenum shown in figure 8. These
testing. The total number of shots for each of these images are all from late in each of the test series shown in
materials was limited by high voltage feedthrough figures 4 and 5. No images were captured for the OFHC
copper anode. The images show that the light emission
was brighter and more uniform in the copper tungsten and
tantalum shots, which is consistent with the data showing
more gas production (and therefore, more plasma
production) in these shots. The images also show very
non-uniform plasma production with the other anodes.
Future experiments will use time-resolved imaging to
determine if the uniformity changes during the pulse
Figure 8. Open-shutter image taken with the
molybdenum anode
Number of gas molecules evolved per shot

pre-treated Ni
The amount of gas produced during firing was
1E16 characterized for six different materials in a compact
sealed-tube vircator. Nickel and molybdenum anodes
produced the least amount of gas per shot. Work is
continuing with the best materials (nickel and
1E15 molybdenum), investigating the effects of different
treatments to the material. Modeling is also being done to
study the thermal behavior of the materials under the
0 5 10 15 20 25 electron beam impact.
shot number
Figure 5. Total quantity of gas evolved per shot for
stainless steel, nickel, molybdenum, and the pre-treated V. REFERENCES
[1] J. Benford, J, Swegle, and E. Schamiloglu, High
Power Microwaves. Taylor & Francis, NY, 2007, pp. 436-

[2] G. A. Mesyats, Cathode Phenomena in a Vacuum

Discharge: The Breakdown, the Spark and the Arc, Nauka
Publishers, Moscow, 2000, pp. 238-258.

[3] J. Vara, J. Walter, S. Holt, and J. Dickens, “Gas

Evolution Measurements in a Sealed Vircator Tube,”
Figure 6. Open-shutter images with the copper tungsten Proc. of the 2010 IEEE International Power Modulator
(left) and tantalum anodes (right) and High Voltage Conference, May 23-27, 2010. Atlanta,

[4] J. Vara, Anode Material Testing in a Vacuum Diode,

Master’s Thesis, Texas Tech University, May 2011.

[5] J. Walter, J. Dickens, and M. Kristiansen,

“Performance of a compact triode vircator and Marx
generator system”, Proceedings of the 17th IEEE
International Pulsed Power Conference, pg. 133, 2009.

[6] Extorr, Inc. “Extorr XT Series RGA Instruction

Figure 7. Open-shutter images with the stainless steel Manual,” Rev 090629, 2009.
(left) and nickel anodes (right)