The Vector Electric Field Investigation (VEFI) on the C/NOFS satellite comprises a suite of sensors controlled by one central electronics box. The primary measurement consists of a vector DC and AC electric field detector which extends spherical sensors with embedded pre-amps at the ends of six, 9.5-m booms forming three orthogonal detectors with baselines of 20 m tip-to-tip each. The primary VEFI measurement is the DC electric field at 16 vectors/sec with an accuracy of 0.5 mV/m. The electric field receiver also measures the broad spectra of irregularities associated with equatorial spread-F and related ionospheric processes that create the scintillations responsible for the communication and navigation outages for which the C/NOFS mission is designed to understand and predict. The AC electric field measurements range from ELF to HF frequencies.
VEFI includes a flux-gate magnetometer providing DC measurements at 1 vector/sec and AC-coupled measurements at 16 vector/sec, as well as a fast, fixed-bias Langmuir probe that serves as the input signal to trigger the VEFI burst memory collection of high time resolution wave data when plasma density depletions are encountered in the low latitude nighttime ionosphere. A bi-directional optical lightning detector designed by the University of Washington (UW) provides continuous average lightning counts at different irradiance levels as well as high time resolution optical lightning emissions captured in the burst memory. The VEFI central electronics box receives inputs from all of the sensors and includes a configurable burst memory with 1-8 channels at sample rates as high as 32 ks/s per channel. The VEFI instrument is thus one experiment with many sensors. All of the instruments were designed, built, and tested at the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center with the exception of the lightning detector which was designed at UW. The entire VEFI instrument was delivered on budget in less than 2 years.
VEFI included a number of technical advances and innovative features described in this article. These include: (1)Two independent sets of 3-axis, orthogonal electric field double probes; (2) Motor-driven, pre-formed cylinder booms housing signal wires that feed pre-amps within tip-mounted spherical sensors; (3) Extended shadow equalizers (2.5 times the sphere diameter) to mitigate photoelectron shadow mismatch for sun angles along the boom directions, particularly important at sunrise/sunset for a low inclination satellite; (4) DC-coupled electric field channels with “boosted” or pre-emphasized amplitude response at ELF frequencies; (5) Miniature multi-channel spectrum analyzers using hybrid technology; (6) Dual-channel optical lightning detector with on-board comparators and counters for 7 irradiance levels with high-time-resolution data capture; (7) Spherical Langmuir probe with Titanium Nitride-coated sensor element and guard; (8) Selectable data rates including 200 kbps (fast), 20 kbps (nominal), and 2 kbps (low for real-time TDRSS communication); and (9) Highly configurable burst memory with selectable channels, sample rates and number, duration, and precursor length of bursts, chosen based on best triggering algorithm “score”.
This paper describes the various sensors that constitute the VEFI experiment suite and discusses their operation during the C/NOFS mission. Examples of data are included to illustrate the performance of the different sensors in space.