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ISS And Space Environment Interactions Without Operating Plasma ContactorThe International Space Station (ISS) will be the largest, highest power spacecraft placed in orbit. Because of this the design of the electrical power system diverged markedly from previous systems. The solar arrays will operate at 160 V and the power distribution voltage will be 120 V. The structure is grounded to the negative side of the solar arrays so under the right circumstances it is possible to drive the ISS potential very negative. A plasma contactor has been added to the ISS to provide control of the ISS structure potential relative to the ambient plasma. The ISS requirement is that the ISS structure not be greater than 40 V positive or negative of local plasma. What are the ramifications of operating large structures with such high voltage power systems? The application of a plasma contactor on ISS controls the potential between the structure and the local plasma, preventing degrading effects. It is conceivable that there can be situations where the plasma contactor might be non-functional. This might be due to lack of power, the need to turn it off during some of the build-up sequences, the loss of functionality for both plasma contactors before a replacement can be installed, similar circumstances. A study was undertaken to understand how important it is to have the contactor functioning and how long it might be off before unacceptable degradation to ISS could occur. The details of interaction effects on spacecraft have not been addressed until driven by design. This was true for ISS. If the structure is allowed to float highly negative impinging ions can sputter exposed conductors which can degrade the primary surface and also generate contamination due to the sputtered material. Arcing has been known to occur on solar arrays that float negative of the ambient plasma. This can also generate electromagnetic interference and voltage transients. Much of the ISS structure and pressure module surfaces exposed to space is anodized aluminum. The anodization thickness is very thin to provide the required solar absorptance and emittance. For conditions where ISS structure can charge negative a large percentage of the array voltage, the dielectric strength of this layer is low, and dielectric breakdown (arcing) can occur. The energy stored capacitively in the structure can be delivered to the arc. The mechanisms by which this energy is delivered and how much of the energy is available hasn't been fully quantified. Questions have been raised regarding the possibility of whether a sustained arc might result due to current collected by the solar arrays from local plasma. It was postulated that even if dielectric breakdown didn't occur, impacts due to micrometeoroids and space debris could penetrate thin layers of dielectric on ISS and initiate an arc due to the coupling provided by the dense local plasma produced by the impact. This was proven in experiments conducted jointly by MSFC and Auburn University. A target chamber with a simulated ionospheric plasma and a biased, anodized aluminum plate and a 1-microfarad capacitor was used. The plate was then impacted by 75-micron particles accelerated to orbital velocity. Arc discharges were sustained for higher voltages but a threshold appears below which no discharge was initiated. Most items without an exposed power system will float electrically near the local plasma potential. This is true of the Space Shuttle, an Astronaut on EVA, and similar items. The structure of ISS might be at a large negative voltage. Therefore, capacitively stored energy can be transferred during docking, installing external boxes and equipment and Astronaut contact with ISS structure. The circumstances of when this can happen and the resulting effects are evaluated in this study. Also, a crewmember on EVA might be in the vicinity of an arc. All safety aspects of such an encounter including charging, molten particles from the arc site and EMI have been evaluated. This paper will report on the total results of this study focussed on the 4A configuration, scheduled to be complete in November, 2000. Interactions such as arcing, debris induced arcs, sustained arcs, sputtering, contamination from sputtering and arcing, docking interactions and Astronaut safety issues will all be addressed.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Carruth, M. R., Jr. (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL United States)
Ferguson, Dale (NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH United States)
Suggs,Rob (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL United States)
McCollum, Matt (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL United States)
Date Acquired
August 19, 2013
Publication Date
January 11, 2001
Subject Category
Spacecraft Propulsion and Power
Meeting Information
39th Aerospace Sciences Meeting and Exhibit(Reno, NV)
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.