Sun, 30/Apr/2017 20:28

My work as a Master's student at USU in the ECE Department was with Prof. Charles Swenson.

I was privileged enough to be a part of a project calibrating an instrument used to measure plasma impedance in the ionosphere. The instrument is called the plasma impedance probe (or PIP) and measures the impedance of the surrounding plasma to measure electron density. Two payloads were flown on two separate sounding rockets as part of the EQUIS II campaign. I came onto the project after the two instruments had already been flown so I did not get to go to Kwajalein Atoll for launch.

The university's student run newspaper, The Statesman, ran an article featuring a photo of grad student Albert Hummel at the launch site. The article briefly described the payloads and the various instruments on board. However, the caption of the photo read something about the flight of the "Plasma Impedance Probe (PIMP)". For some reason, I still find that amusing.

I worked to perform a calibration on the captured data. There were some issues with the instruments and they did not function completely as expected. After post flight calibration the data has a small amount of uncertainty, less than 5% deviation from theoretical values.

In this process I learned about plasmas, the space environment, spacecraft engineering and how to build an instrument so it can easily be calibrated. I also learned a lot from interactions Dr. Swenson and I greatly appreciate his assistance and mentoring.

 The two PIP's that I calibrated are identical to the PIP on the Floating Potential Measurement Unit (FPMU) that is onboard the International Space Station (ISS). The FPMU is used to quantify any charging on the station with respect to the surrounding plasma in the ionosphere. I recently heard that there was some issue about a year or more ago with one of the solar panels. The Russians were blaming the US and the issue was resolved by relocating the FPMU.

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