We describe breakdown in rf accelerator cavities in terms of a number of mechanisms. We divide the breakdown process into three stages: 1) we model surface failure using molecular dynamics of fracture caused by electrostatic tensile stress, 2) the ionization and plasma growth is modeled using a particle in cell code, 3) we model surface damage by assuming unipolar arcing. Although unipolar arcs are strictly defined with equipotential boundaries, we find that the cold, dense plasma in contact with the surface produces very small Debye lengths and very high electric fields over a large area, and these high fields produce strong erosion mechanisms, primarily self sputtering, compatible with crater formation. We compare this model with arcs in tokamaks, plasma ablation, electron beam welding, micrometeorite impacts, and other examples.

This content is only available via PDF.