Fundamental study of DC and RF breakdown of atmospheric air

I. A. Aponte, B. Esser, Z. C. Shaw, James C. Dickens, John J. Mankowski, Andreas A. Neuber

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Radio frequency (RF) breakdown in air at a frequency of particular relevance to ionospheric heating - 3.3 MHz, close to the low end of the applicable frequency range - is studied at centimeter-sized gap distances and compared to the literature for small gaps. To establish a reference point, Paschen's early DC breakdown study utilizing two brass spheres of 1 cm radius was replicated following the original procedure and subsequently extended to examine RF breakdown. Various electrode combinations were tested with brass cathodes creating the highest variance in the datasets among DC tests. The greatest variation in RF breakdown arose when either electrode was brass. Gap distances of 1-10 mm were tested for both DC and RF with the slow-rise time (5 mV/μs) RF breakdown occurring at approximately 80% of the DC breakdown value, a value corroborated by Monte Carlo breakdown simulations. Pushing the envelope rise time of the applied RF voltage into the microsecond regime yielded an RF voltage of roughly 20% above the DC breakdown value accompanied by a distinct increase in breakdown amplitude fluctuations. Illuminating the gap electrodes with deep ultraviolet (280 nm and below) minimized the breakdown amplitude fluctuations due to photoemission at the electrodes as expected. Finally, to address the conditions found in real-world geometries with sharp corners or protrusions, RF corona behavior utilizing tungsten needles above a ground plane is measured. The obtained results help us define the operation limits of high-power antennas at 1-10 MHz frequencies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number123512
JournalPhysics of Plasmas
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


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