Tech Briefs

Wheel Electrometer System

Two documents describe a prototype system of electrometers for measuring electrostatic fields and electrostatic responses of soils on Mars and the Moon.

The electrodes of this electrometer are embedded in a wheel of an exploratory robotic vehicle, utilizing the wheel motion to bring the electrodes into proximity or contact with the soil. Each electrode resides in one of two types of sensor modules: electric-field (ELF) or triboelectric (TRIBO). In either type, what is measured is simply the electric charge induced on the electrode by exposure to the external distribution of electrostatic charge. In an ELF module, the electrode is bare and recessed radially from the wheel surface. The ELF sensor provides a measure of the charge on a small patch of undisturbed soil as the wheel rolls forward. In a TRIBO module, the electrode is only slightly recessed and covered with a polymeric insulator flush with the wheel surface. Through contact electrification, the insulator exchanges charge with the soil. There are five TRIBO sensors, each containing an insulator made of a different polymer. The charge data gathered by the five TRIBO sensors can be used to determine how the soil fits into a triboelectric series.

This work was done by Carlos I. Calle of Kennedy Space Center, Martin G. Buehler of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, James G. Mantovani (an independent contractor), and Charles R. Buhler and Andrew Nowicki of Arctic Slope Research Corp. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at under the Physical Sciences category.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).

Wheel Electrometer System (reference KSC-12677) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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