A proposal investigates alternatives to the present "bumper" method of protecting spacecraft against impacts of meteoroids and orbital debris. The proposed method is based on a British highvoltage- capacitance technique for protecting armored vehicles against shapedcharge warheads.

A shield, according to the proposal, would include a bare metal outer layer separated by a gap from an inner metal layer covered with an electrically insulating material. The metal layers would constitute electrodes of a capacitor. A bias potential would be applied between the metal layers. A particle impinging at hypervelocity on the outer metal layer would break apart into a debris cloud that would penetrate the electrical insulation on the inner metal layer. The cloud would form a path along which electric current could flow between the metal layers, thereby causing the capacitor to discharge. With proper design, the discharge current would be large enough to vaporize the particles in the debris cloud to prevent penetration of the spacecraft.

The shield design can be mass optimized to be competitive with existing bumper designs. Parametric studies were proposed to determine optimum correction between bias voltage, impacting particle velocity, gap space, and insulating material required to prevent spacecraft penetration.

This work was done by David Edwards, Whitney Hubbs, and Mary Hovater of Marshall Space Flight Center. MFS-31995-1.