A multi-channel electrometer voltmeter that employs self-nulling lock-in detection electronics in conjunction with a mechanical resonator with non-contact voltage sensing electrodes has been developed for space-based measurement of an Internal Electrostatic Discharge Monitor (IESDM). The IESDM is new sensor technology targeted for integration into a Space Environmental Monitor (SEM) subsystem used for the characterization and monitoring of deep dielectric charging on spacecraft.

Use of an AC-coupled lock-in amplifier with closed-loop sense-signal nulling via generation of an active guard-driving feedback voltage provides the resolution, accuracy, linearity and stability needed for long-term space-based measurement of the IESDM. This implementation relies on adjusting the feedback voltage to drive the sense current received from the resonator’s variablecapacitance- probe voltage transducer to approximately zero, as limited by the signal- to-noise performance of the loop electronics. The magnitude of the sense current is proportional to the difference between the input voltage being measured and the feedback voltage, which matches the input voltage when the sense current is zero. High signal-to-noise-ratio (SNR) is achieved by synchronous detection of the sense signal using the correlated reference signal derived from the oscillator circuit that drives the mechanical resonator. The magnitude of the feedback voltage, while the loop is in a settled state with essentially zero sense current, is an accurate estimate of the input voltage being measured. This technique has many beneficial attributes including immunity to drift, high linearity, high SNR from synchronous detection of a single-frequency carrier selected to avoid potentially noisy 1/f low-frequency spectrum of the signal-chain electronics, and high accuracy provided through the benefits of a driven shield encasing the capacitance- probe transducer and guarded input triaxial lead-in.

Measurements obtained from a 2- channel prototype electrometer have demonstrated good accuracy (|error| < 0.2 V) and high stability. Twenty-fourhour tests have been performed with virtually no drift. Additionally, 5,500 repeated one-second measurements of 100 V input were shown to be approximately normally distributed with a standard deviation of 140 mV.

This work was done by Brent R. Blaes and Rembrandt T. Schaefer of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-47339

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Self-Nulling Lock-in Detection Electronics for Capacitance Probe Electrometer

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This article first appeared in the August, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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