MSSL Planetary Science News

Dr. Gethyn Lewis attends a meeting of the Spacecraft Plasma Interaction Network

5 March 2012

Calculated charging state for the Cassini spacecraft

Dr. Gethyn Lewis will attend a consortium meeting of the Spacecraft Plasma Interaction Network of Europe (SPINE) at the European Space Agency's space research and technology centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands, from 5 - 7 March 2012. The SPINE consortium aims to share resources and coordinate efforts to understand and model the interaction of spacecraft with their space plasma environments, including spacecraft charging. Dr. Lewis has been involved in modelling work using tools (Spacecraft Plasma Interaction System - SPIS) developed by the SPINE consortium to understand the charging of the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn.

Because space is not a vacuum and is filled with particles, albeit at a very low density compared to Earth, spacecraft/satellites in space interact with their environments, producing wakes (just like boats) and other phenomena. Also, spacecraft will charge up in space, either by electrons and other particles in space bombarding the spacecraft, or by sunlight hitting the surface of the spacecraft and ejecting electrons. Understanding these effects are important in being able to interpret observations made by instruments on the spacecraft and are also important for the health of the spacecraft. Every spacecraft is different and responds differently to its space environment. Furthermore, the environment that Cassini encounters at Saturn is different to the environment around Earth. Dr. Lewis has been focusing on understanding these effects and modelling their results for Cassini so we can more fully understand effects in our data.

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