The physics of ion cyclotron heating (ICH) relevant to the steady-state linear machine MPEX (Material Plasma Exposure eXperiment) has been explored in its predecessor, short-pulse device: Proto-MPEX. MPEX will utilize fundamental ICH to increase heat flux at the target and produce ion temperatures and velocity distributions with improved fidelity to those found in a tokamak divertor region, in comparison to those produced by substrate biasing. In the experiments on Proto-MPEX described here, bulk ion temperatures up to ∼ 15 eV have been achieved with 20 kW net ICH power at 6.5 MHz, using ICH heating of a deuterium plasma produced by a helicon plasma source. The heat flux at the target has been observed to increase throughout the plasma cross section, including in the core region. Core Ti and target heat flux are observed to scale linearly with injected ICH power. Measurements of plasma loading and target heat flux as a function of the magnetic field strength at the antenna, together with modeling of the wave propagation from the antenna to the ion cyclotron resonance using the ANTENA and COMSOL codes with a warm plasma dielectric tensor, indicate that power is coupled to the core plasma via fast wave excitation of a kinetic Alfvén wave.