Whipple shields were first proposed as a means of protecting spacecraft from the impact of micrometeoroids in 1947  and are currently in use as micrometeoroid and orbital debris shields on modern spacecraft. In the intervening years, the function of the thin bumper used to shatter or melt threatening particles has been augmented and enhanced by the use of various types and configurations of intermediate layers of various materials. All shield designs serve to minimize the threat of a spall failure or perforation of the main wall of the spacecraft as a result of the impact of the fragments. With increasing use of Whipple shields, various ballistic limit equations (BLEs) for guiding the design and estimating the performance of shield systems have been developed. Perhaps the best known and most used are the "new" modified Cour-Palais (Christiansen) equations . These equations address the three phases of impact: (1) ballistic (〈3 km/s), where the projectile is moving too slowly to fragment and essentially penetrates as an intact projectile; (2) shatter (3 to 7 km/s), where the projectile fragments at impact and forms an expanding cloud of debris fragments; and (3) melt/vaporization (〉7 km/s), where the projectile melts or vaporizes at impact. The performance of Whipple shields and the adequacy of the BLEs have been examined for the first two phases using the results of impact tests obtained from two-stage, light-gas gun test firings. Shield performance and the adequacy of the BLEs has not been evaluated in the melt/vaporization phase until now because of the limitations of launchers used to accelerate projectiles with controlled properties to velocities above 7.5 km/s. A three-stage, light-gas gun, developed at the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) , is capable of launching small, aluminum spheres to velocities above 9 km/s. This launcher was used to evaluate the ballistic performance of two Whipple shield systems, various thermal protection system materials, and other spacecraft-related materials to the impact of 1.6-mm- to 2.6-mm-diameter, 2017-T4 aluminum spheres at impact velocities ranging from 8.91 km/s to 9.28 km/s. Test results, details of the shield systems, and nominal ballistic limits for the two Whipple shields are shown in Figures 1 and 2.
Spacecraft Design, Testing and Performance
Hypervelocity Impact Symposium 2010; Apr 11, 2010 - Apr 15, 2010; Freiburg; Germany