Kinetic modeling of parasitic currents on spacecraft surfaces due to ambient space plasmas

Nakul Nuwal, Deborah A. Levin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


The spacecraft electrical circuit consists of solar panels as the power source and spacecraft equipment as the load. The solar panels consist of solar cells which are connected in series to generate a high potential difference for the spacecraft equipment to operate on. The spacecraft in a low earth orbit is surrounded by ambient plasma which predominantly consists of O+ ions and electrons.1 Due to the potential difference of the solar cells with the ambient plasma, a circuit forms in parallel to the spacecraft electrical circuit through the ambient plasma which drains the power and results in parasitic losses2 in low earth orbits as shown in Fig. 1. In certain regions of the solar panels where the potential difference between a solar cell and the ambient plasma crosses a threshold, the parasitic current jumps by about three orders of magnitude in a phenomenon known as “snapover”.3 In Davis et. al.,4 a hybrid approach is used with particle and analytic methods to model parasitic current collection at the solar cell interconnects. The model successfully captures the snapover phenomenon but does not report the other physical aspects such as electron kinetic behavior near the interconnects. In previous work,1, 5 secondary electron emission from the dielectric surfaces next to the interconnect are found to be responsible for this additional electron current to the interconnect. Since a fully kinetic study with a self-consistent PIC model on a domain big enough to resolve the ion and electron plasma sheaths has not been performed, we present this work to resolve these and other kinetic aspects of the parasitic current near the solar cell interconnects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum and Exposition, 2019
PublisherAmerican Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Inc, AIAA
ISBN (Print)9781624105906
StatePublished - 2019
EventAIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum and Exposition, 2019 - Indianapolis, United States
Duration: Aug 19 2019Aug 22 2019

Publication series

NameAIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum and Exposition, 2019


ConferenceAIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum and Exposition, 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Energy
  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering


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