The deleterious effects of spacecraft charging are well known, particularly when the charging leads to arc events. The damage that results from arcing can severely reduce system lifetime and even cause critical system failures. On a primary spacecraft system such as a solar array, there is very little tolerance for arcing. Motivated by these concerns, an experimental investigation was undertaken to determine arc thresholds for a high voltage (200-500 V) solar array in a plasma environment. The investigation was in support of a NASA program to develop a Direct Drive Hall-Effect Thruster (D2HET) system. By directly coupling the solar array to a Hall-effect thruster, the D2HET program seeks to reduce mass, cost and complexity commonly associated with the power processing in conventional power systems. In the investigation, multiple solar array technologies and configurations were tested. The cell samples were biased to a negative voltage, with an applied potential difference between them, to imitate possible scenarios in solar array strings that could lead to damaging arcs. The samples were tested in an environment that emulated a low-energy, HET-induced plasma. Short duration trigger arcs as well as long duration sustained arcs were generated. Typical current and voltage waveforms associated with the arc events are presented. Arc thresholds are also defined in terms of voltage, current and power. The data will be used to propose a new, high-voltage (greater than 300 V) solar array design for which the likelihood of damage from arcing is minimal.
Spacecraft Design, Testing and Performance
8th Spacecraft Charging Technology Conference; NASA/CP-2004-213091