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Theory and experiments characterizing hypervelocity impact plasmas on biased spacecraft materials
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Image of FIG. 1.

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FIG. 1.

Projectile distribution, color-coded for theoretical charge production using the relation . Note the strong dependence of speed and mass.

Image of FIG. 2.

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FIG. 2.

Impact targets used in the experiment.

Image of FIG. 3.

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FIG. 3.

Sensor configuration within the test chamber.

Image of FIG. 4.

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FIG. 4.

Photos of the plasma sensors in the chamber, from top to bottom: (a)RPAs, (b) FPA-theta, and (c) FPA-range.

Image of FIG. 5.

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FIG. 5.

Simultaneous measurements from a single impact of a 3.9 fg projectile on −1 kV tungsten at 35.3 km/s.

Image of FIG. 6.

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FIG. 6.

(a) Parameters in the SPM model. (b) Initial speed distribution causes the measured current peak to spread out.

Image of FIG. 7.

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FIG. 7.

(a) Geometry of plasma expansion cone and initial shape of discretized plasma shells. (b) Spherical cap geometry and internal electric field.

Image of FIG. 8.

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FIG. 8.

Measurement of six ion species from a 3.4 fg projectile traveling 35.2 km/s impacting tungsten biased at +1000 V, with SPM output.

Image of FIG. 9.

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FIG. 9.

Impacts on tungsten target. The red trace is from the RPA placed 85 mm from the impact point, and the blue trace is from the RPA placed 65 mm from the impact point. Left to right: same impact as in Figure 8 ; 0 V target with a 2.3 fg projectile impacting at 45.3 km/s; −1000 V target with a 27 fg projectile impacting at 3.5 km/s.

Image of FIG. 10.

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FIG. 10.

A 4.55 km/s impact of a 5.6 pg projectile on −300 V tungsten. The negative ion signal is indicated by the orange arrows.

Image of FIG. 11.

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FIG. 11.

Impacts on the −300 V spacecraft targets. The presence of negative ions is highly dependent on target material. The projectile masses are: (a) 0.59, (b) 6.9, (c) 13, (d) 7.6, and (e) 6.7 fg, respectively. The impact speeds are (a)59.2, (b) 18.7, (c) 21.6, (d) 18.3, and (e) 19.4 km/s, respectively.

Image of FIG. 12.

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FIG. 12.

Fractional composition of impact plasma from tungsten impacts as a function of impact speed.

Image of FIG. 13.

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FIG. 13.

Overlaid RPA measurements of impact plasma composition as a function of impact speed for (a) +1000 V tungsten, (b) +100 V uncoated solar cell, and (c) +100 V conductive OSR, color-coded for impact speed.

Image of FIG. 14.

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FIG. 14.

(a) Simulation with composition and temperature computed by SPM model. (b) Same composition with temperatures reduced by factor of 10.


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Table I.

Summary of impact measurements on the materials discussed in this paper.


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Space weather including solar activity and background plasma sets up spacecraft conditions that can magnify the threat from hypervelocity impacts. Hypervelocity impactors include both meteoroids, traveling between 11 and 72 km/s, and orbital debris, with typical impact speeds of 10 km/s. When an impactor encounters a spacecraft, its kinetic energy is converted over a very short timescale into energy of vaporization and ionization, resulting in a small, dense plasma. This plasma can produce radio frequency (RF) emission, causing electrical anomalies within the spacecraft. In order to study this phenomenon, we conducted ground-based experiments to study hypervelocity impact plasmas using a Van de Graaff dust accelerator. Iron projectiles ranging from 10−16 g to 10−11 g were fired at speeds of up to 70 km/s into a variety of target materials under a range of surface charging conditions representative of space weather effects. Impact plasmas associated with bare metal targets as well as spacecraft materials were studied. Plasma expansion models were developed to determine the composition and temperature of the impact plasma, shedding light on the plasma dynamics that can lead to spacecraft electrical anomalies. The dependence of these plasma properties on target material, impact speed, and surface charge was analyzed. Our work includes three major results. First, the initial temperature of the impact plasma is at least an order of magnitude lower than previously reported, providing conditions more favorable for sustained RF emission. Second, the composition of impact plasmas from glass targets, unlike that of impact plasmas from tungsten, has low dependence on impact speed, indicating a charge production mechanism that is significant down to orbital debris speeds. Finally, negative ion formation has a strong dependence on target material. These new results can inform the design and operation of spacecraft in order to mitigate future impact-related space weather anomalies and failures.


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Scitation: Theory and experiments characterizing hypervelocity impact plasmas on biased spacecraft materials