When contamination-sensitive hardware must be tested in a thermal vacuum chamber, cross-contamination from other hardware present in the chamber, or residue from previous tests, becomes a concern. Typical mitigation strategies involve maintaining the temperature of the critical item above that of other hardware elements at the end of the test.

A formula for relating the pumping speed of a chamber, the surface area of contamination sources, and the temperatures of the chamber, source, and contamination-sensitive items has been developed. The formula allows the determination of a temperature threshold about which contamination will not condense on the sensitive items. It defines a parameter alpha that is the fraction given by (contaminant source area)/[chamber pumping speed × (time under vacuum)0.5]. If this parameter is less than 10–6, cross-contamination from common spacecraft material will not occur when the sensitive hardware is at the same temperature as the source of contamination (The chamber is isothermal within 5 °C.).

Knowing when it becomes safe to have the hardware isothermal permits faster and easier thermal transitions when compared with maintaining an arbitrary temperature differential between parts. Furthermore, the standard temperature differential may not be adequate under some conditions (alpha>10–4).

This work was done by David Hughes of Goddard Space Flight Center. For further information, contact the Goddard Innovative Partnerships Office at (301) 286-5810. GSC-16244-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the March, 2013 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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