The Electrical Capacitance Volume Tomography (ECVT) system has been designed to complement the tools created to sense the presence of water in nonconductive spacecraft materials, by helping to not only find the approximate location of moisture but also its quantity and depth.

An exploded view of the ECVT Sensor shows the face of one of the two 4 × 4 arrays of conductors. Each sensing element is 1.9 cm on a side, placed on 2-cm centers, and separated from the opposing array by 3.3 cm.

The ECVT system has been created for use with a new image reconstruction algorithm capable of imaging high-contrast dielectric distributions. Rather than relying solely on mutual capacitance readings as is done in traditional electrical capacitance tomography applications, this method reconstructs high-resolution images using only the self-capacitance measurements. The image reconstruction method assumes that the material under inspection consists of a binary dielectric distribution, with either a high relative dielectric value representing the water or a low dielectric value for the background material. By constraining the unknown dielectric material to one of two values, the inverse math problem that must be solved to generate the image is no longer ill-determined. The image resolution becomes limited only by the accuracy and resolution of the measurement circuitry. Images were reconstructed using this method with both synthetic and real data acquired using an aluminum structure inserted at different positions within the sensing region.

The cuboid geometry of the system has two parallel planes of 16 conductors arranged in a 4 × 4 pattern. The electrode geometry consists of parallel planes of copper conductors, connected through custom-built switch electronics, to a commercially available capacitance to digital converter. The figure shows two 4 × 4 arrays of electrodes milled from square sections of copper-clad circuitboard material and mounted on two pieces of glass-filled plastic backing, which were cut to approximately square shapes, 10cm on a side. Each electrode is placed on 2.0-cm centers. The parallel arrays were mounted with the electrode arrays approximately 3 cm apart. The open ends were surrounded by a metal guard to reduce the sensitivity of the electrodes to outside interference and to help maintain the spacing between the arrays.

Other uses for this innovation potentially include quantifying the amount of commodity remaining in the fuel and oxidizer tanks while on-orbit without having to fire spacecraft engines. Another orbit application is moisture sensing in plant-growth experiments because microgravity causes moisture in soil to distribute itself in unusual ways.

At the moment, the hardware and image reconstruction technique may only be of interest to people involved in nondestructive evaluation. The reconstructed image takes almost a full week to reproduce with existing computer power. However, because computer power and speeds follows Moore’s Law, execution times are likely to become acceptable within the next five to eight years. The code was written in Mathematica for dedicated use with the ECVT system. In its present form, it is not suitable to be used directly as a consumer product. However, the code could be likely improved by rewriting it in a compiled language such as C or Fortran.

This work was done by Mark Nurge of Kennedy Space Center. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at under the Physical Sciences category. KSC-13038