Fiber-Optic Magnetic-Field-Strength Measurement System for Lightning Detection

Fiber optics used for signal paths provide enhanced immunity from electromagnetic radiation incident in the vicinity of the measurements.

A fiber-optic sensor system is designed to measure magnetic fields associated with a lightning stroke. Field vector magnitudes are detected and processed for multiple locations. Since physical limitations prevent the sensor elements from being located in close proximity to highly conductive materials such as aluminum, the copper wire sensor elements (3) are located inside a 4-cubic-in. (≈66-cubic-cm) plastic housing sensor head and connected to a fiber-optic conversion module by shielded cabling, which is limited to the shortest length feasible. The signal path between the conversion module and the avionics unit which processes the signals are fiber optic, providing enhanced immunity from electromagnetic radiation incident in the vicinity of the measurements. The sensors are passive, lightweight, and much smaller than commercial B-dot sensors in the configuration which measures a three-dimensional magnetic field. The system is expandable, and provides a standard-format output signal for downstream processing.

Inside of the sensor head, three small search coils, each having a few turns on a circular form, are mounted orthogonally inside the non-metallic housing. The fiber-optic conversion module comprises three interferometers, one for each search coil. Each interferometer has a high bandwidth optical phase modulator that impresses the signal received from its search coil onto its output. The output of each interferometer travels by fiber optic cable to the avionics unit, and the search coil signal is recovered by an optical phase demodulator. The output of each demodulator is fed to an analog-to-digital converter, whose sampling rate is determined by the maximum expected rate of rise and peak signal magnitude. The output of the digital processor is a faithful reproduction of the coil response to the incident magnetic field. This information is provided in a standard output format on a 50-ohm port that can be connected to any number of data collection and processing instruments and/or systems.

The measurement of magnetic fields using fiber-optic signal processing is novel because it eliminates limitations of a traditional B-dot system. These limitations include the distance from the sensor to the measurement device, the potential for the signal to degrade or be corrupted by EMI from lightning, and the size and weight of the sensor and associated plate.

This work was done by Jay Gurecki of Kennedy Space Center; Bob Scully of Johnson Space Center; and Allen Davis, Clay Kirkendall, and Frank Bucholtz of the Naval Research Laboratory. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Physical Sciences category. KSC-13221

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