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Center Independent Research & Development: GSFC IRAD

Micro Plasma Spectrometer (MIPS)

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

The purpose of this IRAD project is to develop a preliminary design elements of miniature electron and ion plasma spectrometers and supporting electronics, focusing on early high voltage power supply (HVPS) development and innovative mechanical design and fabrication techniques based on ‘additive manufacturing’. On the HVPS side, clear, simple, and conservative requirements that don’t attempt to push performance envelopes will be key to our ability to conceive and prototype a minimum resource solution. This development targets future opportunities for application on Cube-Sats and other low resource Heliophysics payloads, including sounding rockets, Explorers, particularly, constellation missions.

The need for electrostatic analyzers to measure ion and electron fluxes in near-Earth space is nearly ubiquitous in Heliophysics missions. In the latest example, NASA’s MMS mission slated for launch in 2014 features fully 32 electron and 32 ion spectrometers. These plasma measurements are central to the vast majority of such missions. The range of fluxes and energies to be covered is extremely wide, in view of the wide range of plasma conditions across the heliophysics realm. The GSFC Heliophysics Division enjoys a distinguished tradition of developing and flying these devices and is well placed to provide future leadership in this area.

Two specific and related thrusts within the field demand the development of minimum resource instrument work horses for future missions. Those are constellation missions and the development and proliferation of Cube-sats. The Cube-sats themselves may well comprise the elements of future constellations. Constellations, or groups of spacecraft providing networks of observation points, have been called for in both the current and past HPD roadmaps. Early, small number constellations have been realized with NASA’s Themis mission (5 sc) and ESA’s Cluster mission (4 sc). MMS itself is comprised of 4 sc. Future mission concepts call for constellations with many more sc. Realization of these concepts will require individual instruments and supporting spacecraft systems with phenomenally small physical resource requirements. Progress is being made quickly on the spacecraft system side, with lots of innovation evident in Cube-sat architectures, subsystems, and deployment systems. The time to focus on resource minimization for work horse instruments is now!

The overarching goal of this IRAD is to exploit the definition of clear simple and non-exceptional performance requirements with innovative design and fabrication techniques and, perhaps, a relatively high risk tolerance, to develop an ESA package design that will feature basic functionality over a wide range of energies and fluxes, with minimum physical resource requirements and a high level of manufacturability. We will pursue this goal by developing a package concept that can fit and operate in a 1U x 1U Cube-sat. Specific objectives of this first development year include:

  • Define minimalist science requirements for a low-resource, workhorse class ESA package for HPD missions that meet objectives in the proposed DIONE Cube-sat mission.
  • Flow these down to a correspondingly minimalist set of HVPS requirements.
  • Design, develop, and demonstrate a prototype HVPS that meets defined requirements and fits within the volumetric envelope available in the proposed DIONE payload.
  • Perform a conceptual ion & electron ESA package design, based on a 1” dia. MCP.

Conduct a feasibility study on use of additive manufacturing technology (3D printing) in manufacturing small, and very light weight miniature ESA and detector assemblies and/or components with sufficient strength and dimensional precision.

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