Development of a Time Domain Radio Frequency Plasma Impedance Probe For Measurement of Absolute Electron Density and Electron Neutral Collision Frequency

Friday, 19 December 2014
Edmund A Spencer, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL, United States
We describe the development of a Time Domain Plasma Impedance Probe for the measurement of plasma properties in the ionosphere. It is being designed and developed to fly on cubesat platforms. The new instrument will be capable of making measurements of absolute electron density and electron neutral collision frequency at temporal and spatial resolutions not previously attained. A single measurement can be made in a time as short as 50 microseconds, which yields a spatial resolution of 0.35 meters for a satellite orbital velocity of 7 km/s. By averaging over 100 samples we expect an average spatial resolution of 35 meters.

The method essentially consists of applying a small amplitude time limited voltage signal into a probe and measuring the resulting current response. The electron resonant frequencies of interest in the ionosphere are between are typically between 100 kHz and 20 MHz, which sets the required bandwidth. The new time domain method will
present a significant improvement over the frequency domain method currently in use. The RF impedance probe has a distinct advantage over other methods used to measure plasma properties, in that it's measurements are not strongly affected by spacecraft charging effects that contaminate measurements made in the plasma environment.

We will demonstrate the effectiveness of the instrument using data from sounding rocket
missions, give details of the new instrument methodology, and suggest some possible areas of application of the method to measuring space plasmas. The difficulties associated with performing the measurements in a cubesat platform, and subsequently interpreting the measurements, will also be presented.