A 3 MV electrostatic accelerator to study hypervelocity dust impacts has been constructed at the University of Colorado, initially (2009-2013) funded as part of the NASA Lunar Science Institute’s (NLSI) Colorado Center for Lunar Dust and Atmospheric Studies (CCLDAS). Since 2014, the facility has continued under the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute’s (SSERVI) Institute form Modeling Plasmas, Atmospheres, and Cosmic Dust (IMPACT). The accelerator was completed in 2011, and consists of a 3 MV Pelletron generator with a dust source, image-charge pickup detectors, and interchangeable target chambers. The accelerator is a source of hypervelocity dust particles with radii in the range of 20 nm
The accelerator so far has been used for a large variety of science experiments, as well as for the development, testing, and calibration of flight hardware. This includes projects within the NLSI/SSERVI umbrella as well as external users and collaborators from a range of NASA programs. These have included damage studies of candidate retro-reflectors for lunar ranging experiments, impact ejecta and space weathering experiments, thin-film penetration studies for Solar Probe Plus, effects on E-field measurements of impacts to antennas and spacecraft bodies, and development of the HyperDust, NanoDust Analyzer, LDEX, and SUDA instruments.
The recent development of a high-pressure (up to 0.5 Torr) gas target has enabled studies for understanding the ablation of meteoroids in planetary atmospheres, or in the case of the Earth, to improve our ability to analyze and interpret the data from ground-based meteor-radars. The recent development of cryogenic ice-target capability enables studies of the effects of dust bombardment of ice in the permanently shadowed regions of the Moon, or the icy surfaces of outer solar system objects, for example.
New experimental groups are continually solicited to work with us on experiments addressing the effects of debris/meteoroid impacts on spacecraft and instrumentation, the atmosphere of the Earth and other planets, as well as surface effects on airless bodies in the solar system. The facility also provides a unique opportunity to cross-calibrate remote sensing and in-situ instruments for future space missions.