Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Electrical and Computer Engineering


Ryan Davidson


Low-earth orbit (LEO) contains plasma which can impact satellite charging and radio frequency (RF) communications. Quantifying both the composition and movement of ions in LEO can improve efficiency of the forecasting models that predict the impact plasma will have on satellite communications and accuracy of global positioning satellite measurements.

Two instruments known as the Retarding Potential Analyzer (RPA) and the Ion Drift Meter (IDM) have been used in tandem to measure ionospheric properties including ion temperature, velocity, and density. These instruments are costly and occupy large areas on a spacecraft. In recent years, space mission budgets have diminished. This change has driven innovation towards creating new instruments which are compatible with smaller and cheaper satellites yet still yield measurements of comparable quality. This thesis presents the design of a new instrument that encompasses the functionality of both the RPA and IDM, known as the Plasma Velocity Vector Instrument for Small Satellites (PVVISS). PVVISS has compact form factor and low power requirements, making it a viable option for smaller, low cost nano-satellite sized missions. Missions utilizing the PVVISS sensor will allow increased exploration of the ionospheric impact on satellite communications.