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NASA Facts Explorer XVI the Micrometeoroid Satellite

NASA Facts Explorer XVI the Micrometeoroid Satellite

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Apr 02, 2011
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NASA
FACTS
An Educational Services Publication
of
the
e
;;;;
--
}
..
,
.:
.:.
:.-/. .0. '
•.
(A-1-63)
National
Aeronautics
and
Space
Administration
EXPLORER
XVI
THE
MICROMETEOROID
SATELLITE
Explorer
XVI
in
orbit
(artist'sconception).Experiment devices areindicated.
NASA's
Explorer
XVI
satellite
collects and
transmits
information
about
micrometeoroids-
ti
ny bits
of
matter
speeding
through
space and
someti
mes
entering
the
earth'satmosphere
.
Micrometeoroids
aremuch
smaller
than
the
meteors
or
"shooting
stars"
which
cross
the
heavens with
brilliant
effect
at
certain
times
of
the year. Meteors encountered in
space are
called
meteoroids
.
The
much
smaller
particles
nowbeing
studied by Explorer
XVI
are calledmicrometeroids
.
Sent
into orbit
December
16,
1962,
the
Micrometeroid
Satellite
transmits
data
relating tothe
number
of
micrometeoroids encountered,
the
-
----
--
--
force with
which they
bombard
the satellite's
structure,
their
destructive effect,and the
com-
parative
resistance
of
different
thicknesses
and
types
of
materials to penetration by
the
m
icrometeoroids.
Data
on
the
momentum
of
the particles willhelp
determine
the
mass
(amount
of
matter),
dis-
tribution,
and
flux
(rate
of
flow)
of
micrometeor-
oids
in
the
path
of
Explorer
XVI.
Results
of
the
studies
are
expected
to
contribute
to the
design
of
future
spacecraft
by determining what damage
may
be
done
by
micro
meteoroids, and how
to
guard against
such
damage.
 
Page
2
Explorers
I
through
XV
are
described
in
NASA
FACTS-
THE
EXPLORER
SATELLITES
(E-10-62).
The
Explorers
are
geophysical
satellites
of various con-figurations
developed to study
the
space environment
and upper atmosphere
surrounding
earth,
including
such
phenomena
as radiation, micrometeoroids,
tempera-
tures,magnetic
field,
and
solar plasma.
Investigations
at
greater
distances
are
accomplished by
other
devices
such
as
the
Pioneer, Ranger, and
Mariner
spacecraft.
MICROMETEOROIDS-A
SPACE
ENIGMA
littl
.e
is
known
about
micrometeoroids.
Knowl
edge
about
these
enigmatic
particles
stems
from
radar
and
optical
tracking
of
their
trails
after
they hit earth's atmosphere and from their
impacts
with
instruments
of
spacecraft. Among
the
spacecraft
that
have
provided
information
on
micrometeoroidsare the Explorers
I,
VII,
and
VIII
andtheVanguard
III
satellites;
the Pioneer
I
probe;and
Mariner
II, the instrumented
vehicle
NASA
technician
prepares
Explorer
XVI
for
vacuumchamber
testin
which
extre'];les
of
heatand
cold expected
in
space
are simulated
.
sent
from
earth
to
the
neighborhood
of
Venus.
Spacecraft have discovered
that periodicallythere
are
micrometeoroid
showers
lasting
from
several hours
to
a
few
days. Comparison
of
micrometeoroid
counts
provided
by
satellites
near
earth
~ i t h 
reports
ofMariner
II
and
Pioneer
I
indicates
thatmicrometeoroid
density
tends
to
decrease
with
distance from earth.
As
an exam
ple,
analysis
of
Mariner
II
and
earthsatellitedatashows
that
micrometeoroids in
space
near
earth
are
about
10,000
times more
abundant
than
along Mariner's trajectory
in
interplanetary
space.
Calculations
of
particle
speeds,based upon
NASA
FACTS
(A-1-63)
their
momentums on
striking spacecraft
detectors,
indicate
velocities
ranging
from
about
25,000
to
approximately
160,000
milesper
hour
.
It
is
theorized
that
micrometeoroids
are
grain
si
zed cousins
of
the meteoroids.
If
this
is
true,
micrometeoroids are
composed
of
iron,
silicates,
and
other
substances
found
on
earth.
Analyses
of
meteorites
(meteoroids
that
have
fallen
to
earth)
have
revealed that they
are
constituted
of
such
substances.
Suggestions
regardingorigins
of
micrometeor
oids
include
the
possibility
that they
are
pulver
ized
remnants
of
colliding
asteroids
or
meteoroids,
residues
of
former
comets,leftovers
of
a
greatcloud
of
dust
and
gas
fromwhich
the
solar
system
may
have
been
formed,
and
those
near
earthperhaps
have been
cast
off
by
the
moon.
NASA
technicians
test
four-stage
Scout launchvehicle.NoteExplorer
XVI
in
foreground
.
Covering
whic
h
protectssatel
lite during
launch,
is
jettisonedin
orbit
.
SPACECRAFT EXPERIMENTS
The
experiments
of
Explorer
XVI
are designed
primarily
to
tell what
micrometeoroids
can
do
to
materials that may
be
used
in
future
spacecraft.
They
are
also
aimedat
gatheringadditional
in
formation
onthese
particles.
The
satellite's
array
of
instruments
and
sensors
includes
the
following;
(1)
Pressurized cells
shaped
like
half
cylinders
with
walls fashioned from one-thousandth
to nve
thousandth
inch
thick
beryllium
copper.
The
cells
contain helium
gas
held
under
pressure.
A
 
NASA
FACTS
(A-2-63)
Explorer
XVI is
the
third
of
five
planned
launches
of this
type
of
micro
meteoroidsatellite
i.e.,with
experiments
built
around
the spent
fourth
stage
of
the
Scoutlaunch
veh
i
cle.
In
the
first,
on
June
30,
1961,
the
rocket
failed
.
The
second,
on August
2S
,
1961
,
resulted
in
orbitbeing
attained
but
not
micrometeoroid
puncture
releases
the gas
anddrops
pressure,
activating
an electron
ic
circuit
for
report
i
ng
this
information
to earth
.
(2)
Two
groups
of
foil
gauges,
one protected
by
stainless
steel
a
thousandth
of
an
inchthick
and
the other shielded by
stainless
steel
six
thousandth
of
an inch
thick.
A
micro meteoroid
that
passes
through
t
h ~
steel
breaks
the
foil,changing
the resistance
level
in anelectronic
cir-
During
pre
-
launch
tests,
the
micrometeoro
id
satellite,
mounted
in
a
supporting
rig
and
cushioned
by
aluminum
honeycombmat
erial(
bottom),
is
dropp
ed
to
si
mulal
'
the
shQck
to
which
J
~ h
b e
s U b i e
= ~
c o u t 
rockets
fire.
/-
Or-
<./
Page
3
at
the
programmed
altitudes;
the perigee
,
about
7S
miles,
dipped
into
the denser
portians
of
earth's atmosphere whereair
drag decelerated the
satell
i
te
's
speed
to
less
than
thatneeded
to
remain
in
orbit.
The
orbit
ended
when
Explorer
XIII
plunged
toward
earth,
on August
27
.
cuit.
This
lowered
resistance level
is
recordedfortransmittal to
earth.
(3) Wire
grids
consisting
of
copper wire
two
a
ndthree-thousandsinch
th
ick
mounted
on
rec
tangular
melamine
cards
.
When
micrometeoroids
break
the wires,
the
lowered
resistance level
of
an
electronic circuit
is
recorded.
(4)
Cadmium sulfide
cells
shieldedby
a
mi
crothin
sheet
of
polymer
plasticcoated
with
vaporized
aluminum. When
a
micrometeoroid
pierces
the
shield, it admits
light
tothe cell,
changing
the cell's
resistance.
The
amount
of
Ii
ght
admitted
gives
information
on
the
size
of
the
micrometeoroid
.
(5)
Impact
detectors
that
convertthe
momen
tum
of
micrometeoroids
impacting
onthedetector
assembly into
an
electrical impulse.
The
detec
tor
has
three
different
levels
of
sensitivity
.
Data
fromimpact
detectors
are
correlated
withthat
of
micrometeoroid
effects on
materials
in
the
pres
sure
cell
experiment
.
(6)
Five
test
groups
of
silicon solar
cells
to
measure
deterioration
caused
by
micrometeoroids
and compare
the effectiveness
of
different
thick
nesses
and types
of
protective coatings
.
Somecells have glass shields six
-
thousandth
inch
thick.Others
are
protected by three-sixteenth
inch
thick
quartz
windows.
A
third group
is
unshielded.The
solar
cells
are
wired to report
on their
conditions.
FIRST
REPORT
First
reports
from
Explorer
XVI
have
conclu
sively established
thatmicrometeoroids
can
punc
ture
thin
surfaces.
Until the
satellite
furnishedthis evidence,the
hazard
posedtospacecraft
bymicrometeoroids
was
presumed
butnot
proved.
Previous
satellites
contained
instrumentsthat
could report
only
impacts
by
these mysterious
particles.Analysis
of
data
sent
by
Explorer
XVI
during
its
first month in
orbit
indicates
ten punctures
of
its
beryllium copper walls
one-thousandth
inch
thick

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