Investigation of Dusty Plasma Effects in Hypervelocity Impacts

Gil Shohet, Stanford University

Photo of Gil Shohet

Spacecraft are routinely impacted by macroscopic particles such as meteoroids and space debris, which can be traveling tens of kilometers per second. These impacts are referred to as hypervelocity because the impactor travels faster than the speed of sound in the target material, causing a shock wave and pressure stresses greater than the material strength. On impact, these particles and part of the target material vaporize and ionize, forming a dense plasma plume that expands into the vacuum. This expanding plasma can produce radio frequency (RF) emissions and strong electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) that may harm spacecraft electronics, potentially resulting in anomalies or spacecraft failure. Additionally, neutral particles ejected from the impact site may interact with the plasma and acquire a surface charge, resulting in a dusty plasma. Plasma measurements from ground-based hypervelocity impact experiments at the NASA Ames Vertical Gun Range (AVGR) suggest that dusty plasma effects may play an important role in the expansion process. Our work focuses on understanding the role of dust in the hypervelocity impact environment and its effects on potential spacecraft damage mechanisms. First, we present evidence of dusty plasma effects in the AVGR data. Second, we describe a preliminary dust charging model for simulating the plasma expansion in a dusty environment using particle-in-cell simulations. Finally, we describe plans to better characterize the dust population and its effects on the expanding plasma in a future AVGR test campaign.

Abstract Author(s): Gil Shohet, Sigrid Close