Active spacecraft potential control investigation
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In tenuous plasma the floating potential of sunlit spacecraft reaches tens of volts, positive. The corresponding field disturbs measurements of the ambient plasma by electron and ion sensors and can reduce micro-channel plate lifetime in electron detectors owing to large fluxes of attracted photoelectrons. Also the accuracy of electric field measurements may suffer from a high spacecraft potential. The Active Spacecraft Potential Control (ASPOC) neutralizes the spacecraft potential by releasing positive charge produced by indium ion emitters. The method has been successfully applied on other spacecraft such as Cluster and Double Star. Two ASPOC units are present on each spacecraft. Each unit contains four ion emitters, whereby one emitter per instrument is operated at a time. ASPOC for the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission includes new developments in the design of the emitters and the electronics. New features include the use of capillaries instead of needles, new materials for the emitters and their internal thermal insulators, an extended voltage and current range of the electronics, both for ion emission and heating purposes, and a more capable control software. This enables lower spacecraft potentials, higher reliability, and a more uniform potential structure in the spacecraft’s sheath compared to previous missions. Results from on-ground testing demonstrate compliance with requirements. Model calculations confirm the findings from previous applications that the plasma measurements will not be affected by the beam’s space charge. Finally, the various operating modes to adapt to changing boundary conditions are described along with the main data products.
Torkar, K.; Nakamura, R.; Tajmar, Martin; Scharlemann, C.; Jeszensky, H.; Laky, G.; Fremuth, G.; Escoubet, C. P.; Svenes, Knut Ragnar. Active spacecraft potential control investigation. Space Science Reviews 2014