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8th Spacecraft Charging Technology Conference


Spacecraft Charging Technology

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Conductivity of insulating materials is a key parameter to determine how accumulated charge will distribute across the spacecraft and how rapidly charge imbalance will dissipate. Classical ASTM and IEC methods to measure thin film insulator conductivity apply a constant voltage to two electrodes around the sample and measure the resulting current for tens of minutes. However, conductivity is more appropriately measured for spacecraft charging applications as the "decay" of charge deposited on the surface of an insulator. Charge decay methods expose one side of the insulator in vacuum to sequences of charged particles, light, and plasma, with a metal electrode attached to the other side of the insulator. Data are obtained by capacitive coupling to measure both the resulting voltage on the open surface and emission of electrons from the exposed surface, as well monitoring currents to the electrode. Instrumentation for both classical and charge storage decay methods has been developed and tested at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and at Utah State University (USU). Details of the apparatus, test methods and data analysis are given here. The JPL charge storage decay chamber is a first-generation instrument, designed to make detailed measurements on only three to five samples at a time. Because samples must typically be tested for over a month, a second-generation high sample throughput charge storage decay chamber was developed at USU with the capability of testing up to 32 samples simultaneously. Details are provided about the instrumentation to measure surface charge and current; for charge deposition apparatus and control; the sample holders to properly isolate the mounted samples; the sample carousel to rotate samples into place; the control of the sample environment including sample vacuum, ambient gas, and sample temperature; and the computer control and data acquisition systems. Measurements are compared here for a number of thin film insulators using both methods at both facilities. We have found that conductivity determined from charge storage decay methods is 102 to 104 larger than values obtained from classical methods. Another Spacecraft Charging Conference presentation describes more extensive measurements made with these apparatus. This work is supported through funding from the NASA Space Environments and Effects Program and the USU Space Dynamics Laboratory Enabling Technologies Program.


Paper presented at the 8th Spacecraft Charging Technology Conference. PDF available for download through link above.

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