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Spacecraft Surface Charging Handbook

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Final rept. Oct 1989-Nov 1992

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Spacecraft surface charging is the buildup of net electric charge--and therefore electrostatic potential--on the external surfaces of a spacecraft due to incident particles with energies in the kilo-electron volt to tens of kilo-electron volts range. Geosynchronous and low-altitude, polar-orbiting spacecraft encounter charging environments. Surface charging causes problems for operational spacecraft. A primary effect is the occurrence of electronic switching anomalies which can be triggered by differential charging related discharges. The discharge induced transients can cause system failures and potentially, material damage. A more common anomaly is a phantom command, requiring intervention from the ground, and possibly resulting in loss of data andor expendables, thus shortening the operational lifetime of the spacecraft. The work of the early 1980s provided designers with tools to reduce the number and severity of anomalies. Over the past 10 years, concern has arisen regarding charging on low-altitude, polar orbiting spacecraft due to auroral precipitation. Additionally, with the miniaturization of components, modern spacecraft are more vulnerable to EMI. This handbook was developed to address some of these concerns. This handbook reviews the scientific issues of concern in spacecraft surface charging, describes the components of a spacecraft surface control plan, and summarizes the techniques used to avoid spacecraft surface charging problems. Examples are provided of 1 calculational techniques to evaluate the expected effects of a spacecraft design and 2 experimental techniques to test immunity to spacecraft surface charging effects.

Subject Categories:

  • Atmospheric Physics
  • Electricity and Magnetism
  • Plasma Physics and Magnetohydrodynamics
  • Unmanned Spacecraft
  • Manned Spacecraft

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