Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Electrical and Computer Engineering


Dr. Randy J. Jost


Insulators used in the construction of spacecraft are irradiated with high-energy electrons in the space environment and this sometimes causes the insulators to charge to very high voltages. Such charged insulators can generate spontaneous electric partial-discharge pulses of the order of mA to tens of A. These pulses sometimes last enough time to destroy the expensive micro-circuitry present in the spacecraft. In evaluating the threat to the spacecraft due to these discharges, calculation of the resistivity becomes a critical parameter since it determines how accumulated charge will distribute across the spacecraft and how rapidly charge imbalance will dissipate. So far, resistivity values for the insulators for spacecraft applications have been simply imported from tabulated results measured using standard American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and International Electro-technical Commission (IEC) methods. This thesis work provides the details of the charge storage method which has been found to be more appropriate in calculating the resistivity of spacecraft insulators by emulating the space environment better. This method is based on the concept that the resistivity is better measured as the decay of the charge deposited on the surface of an insulator, rather than by the flow of current across two electrodes around the sample which is the case with the classical method of measurements.

From the results obtained from the charge storage method, it has been found that the ASTM resistivity values for thin film insulating spacecraft materials have been found to under-predict charge transport values applicable to many spacecraft charging problems, by 10 to 104 times. The charge storage method has only one side of the insulator in vacuum exposed to charged particles, light and plasma, with a metal electrode attached to the other side of the insulator. The chamber for measuring the charge storage decay has been designed with the capability to measure 32 samples simultaneously. The details of the apparatus, instrumentation, test methods, data acquisition methods, and data analysis for measuring resistivity of the spacecraft insulators are given here. Details about the vacuum environment, sample mounting, isolation of the samples, charging of the samples, measurement of the surface charge, rotary motion of the sample carousel, etc., are also given. The report also includes differences between the classical methods and the charge storage method both in terms instrumentation and methodology. The results obtained from both methods are tabulated showing the superiority of the charge storage method. Recommendations for future work are also included.

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