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Interplanetary Dust Impacts on Spacecraft: Mechanics and Shielding Approach

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

2:30pm – 3:45pm

Virtual via zoom (register by clicking here), Virginia Tech Campus

Dr. Kaushik Iyer

Applied Physics Lab

Johns Hopkins


After launching in August 2018 and completing its first Venus flyby shortly thereafter, the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft will successfully complete its 7th orbit around the Sun at a distance of about 25 solar radii on January 17, 2021. The spacecraft is on its way to completing its mission in June 2025 and a total of 24 orbits Solar orbits while achieving a closest approach within 10 solar radii. Unprecedented in many ways, as most NASA science missions are, the Parker Solar Probe mission was required to be designed to have at least 95% probability of survival from interplanetary dust impacts at speeds as high as 300 km/s. This seminar focuses on taking available engineering mechanics based test and modeling capabilities and adapting them to the PSP mission need. At its heart, this problem is technically expansive, touching widely separated disciplines in engineering, science and space physics. A big part of the story is the teaming and required expertise that needed to be pulled together and working collaboratively to solve a problem that had not been done before. Experts in Materials Science, Chemical Physics, Shock Physics, Mechanical Engineering, Dust Modeling and Near Sun Environment, and of course Spacecraft Systems had inputs into this in some form or another. Our approach for developing requisite, new Ballistic Limit Equations, along with specific examples is presented. We also touch on key assumptions and critical design decisions.


Kaushik Iyer is a Materials Physicist, line manager and principal investigator in the Space Exploration Sector at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD. His subjects matter expertise includes spacecraft shielding against hypervelocity impacts. Iyer received his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Vanderbilt University. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.