The spherical segmented Langmuir probe in a flowing thermal plasma: numerical model of the current collection
Abstract. The segmented Langmuir probe (SLP) has been recently proposed by one of the authors (Lebreton, 2002) as an instrument to derive the bulk velocity of terrestrial or planetary plasmas, in addition to the electron density and temperature that are routinely measured by Langmuir probes. It is part of the scientific payload on the DEMETER micro-satellite developed by CNES. The basic concept of this probe is to measure the current distribution over the surface using independent collectors under the form of small spherical caps and to use the angular anisotropy of these currents to obtain the plasma bulk velocity in the probe reference frame. In order to determine the SLP capabilities, we have developed a numerical PIC (Particles In Cell) model which provides a tool to compute the distribution of the current collected by a spherical probe. Our model is based on the simultaneous determination of the charge densities in the probe sheath and on the probe surface, from which the potential distribution in the sheath region can be obtained. This method is well adapted to the SLP problem and has some advantages since it provides a natural control of the charge neutrality inside the simulation box, allows independent mesh sizes in the sheath and on the probe surface, and can be applied to complex surfaces. We present in this paper initial results obtained for plasma conditions corresponding to a Debye length equal to the probe radius. These plasma conditions are observed along the Demeter orbit. The model results are found to be in very good agreement with those published by Laframboise (1966) for a spherical probe in a thermal non-flowing plasma. This demonstrates the adequacy of the computation method and of the adjustable numerical parameters (size of the numerical box and mesh, time step, number of macro-particles, etc.) for the considered plasma-probe configuration. We also present the results obtained in the case of plasma flowing with mesothermal conditions reproducing the case of measurements onboard a low altitude spacecraft. Finally, we briefly discuss the capabilities of the SLP to deduce the plasma bulk velocity under similar conditions and present the first onboard measurements.
Keywords. Ionosphere (Modeling and forecasting; Instruments and techniques)