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8th Spacecraft Charging Technology Conference


Spacecraft Charging Technology

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Dissipation of charges built up near the surface of insulators due to space environment interaction is central to understanding spacecraft charging. Conductivity of insulating materials is key to determine how accumulated charge will distribute across the spacecraft and how rapidly charge imbalance will dissipate. To understand these processes requires knowledge of how charge is deposited within the insulator, the mechanisms for charge trapping and charge transport within the insulator, and how the profile of trapped charge affects the transport and emission of charges from insulators. One must consider generation of mobile electrons and holes, their trapping, thermal detrapping, mobility and recombination. Conductivity is more appropriately measured for spacecraft charging applications as the "decay" of charge deposited on the surface of an insulator, rather than by flow of current across two electrodes around the sample. We have found that conductivity determined from charge storage decay methods is 102 to 104 smaller than values obtained from classical ASTM and IEC methods for a variety of thin film insulating samples. For typical spacecraft charging conditions, classical conductivity predicts decay times on the order of minutes to hours (less than typical orbit periods); however, the higher charge storage conductivities predict decay times on the order of weeks to months leading to accumulation of charge with subsequent orbits. We found experimental evidence that penetration profiles of radiation and light are exceedingly important, and that internal electric fields due to charge profiles and high-field conduction by trapped electrons must be considered for space applications. We have also studied whether the decay constants depend on incident voltage and flux or on internal charge distributions and electric fields; light-activated discharge of surface charge to distinguish among differing charge trapping centers; and radiation-induced conductivity. Our experiments also show that "Malter" electron emission occurs for hours after turning off the electron beam. This Malter emission—similar to emission due to negative electron affinity in semiconductors—is a result of the prior radiation or optical excitations of valence electrons and their slow drift among traps towards the surface where they are subsequently emitted. This work is supported through funding from the NASA Space Environments and Effects Program.


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

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