Hypervelocity impacts on HST solar arrays and the debris and meteoroids population

Moussi, A.; Drolshagen, G.; McDonnell, J. A. M.; Mandeville, J.-C.; Kearsley, A. T. and Ludwig, H. (2005). Hypervelocity impacts on HST solar arrays and the debris and meteoroids population. Advances in Space Research, 35(7) pp. 1243–1253.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.asr.2005.03.060


Accurate debris and meteoroid flux models are crucial for the design of manned and unmanned space missions. For the most abundant particle sizes smaller than a few millimetres, knowledge of the populations can only be gained from in situ detectors or the analysis of retrieved space hardware. The measurement of impact flux from exposed surfaces improves with increased surface area and exposure time. A post-flight impact investigation was initiated by the European Space Agency to record and analyse the impact fluxes and any potential resulting damage on the two flexible solar arrays of the Hubble Space Telescope. The arrays were deployed during the first Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission in December 1993 and retrieved in March 2002. They have a total exposed surface area of roughly 120 m2, including 42 m2 covered with solar cells. This new Hubble post-flight impact study follows a similar activity undertaken after the retrieval of one of the first solar arrays, in 1993. The earlier study provided the first opportunity for a numerical survey of damage to exposed surfaces from more than 600 km altitude, and of impacts from particles larger than 1 mm. The results have proven very valuable in validation of important flux model regimes. The second set of Hubble solar arrays has again provided an unrivalled opportunity to measure the meteoroid and debris environment, now sampled during a long interval in low Earth orbit, and to identify changes in the space debris environment since the previous survey. The retrieved solar array wings exhibit thousands of craters, many of which are visible to the naked eye. A few hundred impacts have completely penetrated the 0.7 mm thick array. The largest impact features are about 7-8 mm in diameter. The cover glass of the solar cells is particularly well suited to the recognition of small impact features by optical and electron microscopy. In this, paper, we present the first results of the impact survey. Data upon the abundance of craters of specific measured size ranges are plotted as cumulative flux curves, and compared to the results of model predictions. The most significant change to the particle flux since 1993 is a decrease in the small debris population.

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