A laboratory experiment to examine the effect of auroral beams on spacecraft charging in the ionosphere

Siddiqui, M. U.; Gayetsky, L. E.; Mella, M. R.; Lynch, K. A.; Lessard, M. R.
September 2011
Physics of Plasmas;Sep2011, Vol. 18 Issue 9, p092905
Academic Journal
A 2.54 cm diameter conducting electrically isolated Copper sphere is suspended in a low density (104 cm-3), low temperature (Te = 0.5 eV) Argon plasma, which mimics a spacecraft in an ionospheric plasma. An electron beam with current density of approximately 10-10 A/cm2 and beam spot of 10.2 cm diameter, which mimics an auroral electron beam, is fired at the sphere while varying the beam energy from 100 eV to 2 keV. The plasma potential in the sheath around the sphere is measured using an emissive probe as the electron beam energy is varied. To observe the effects of the electron beam, the experimental sheath potential profiles are compared to a model of the plasma potential around a spherically symmetric charge distribution in the absence of electron beams. Comparison between the experimental data and the model shows that the sphere is less negative than the model predicts by up to half a volt for beam energies that produce high secondary electron emission from the surface of the sphere. It is shown that this secondary emission can account for changes in potential of spacecraft in the ionosphere as they pass through auroral beams and thus helps to improve interpretations of ionospheric thermal ion distributions.


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