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I Scaling up a mass spectrometer

  1. Jun 23, 2017 #1
    The essential question is can this tech be scaled up in the vacuum of space to add a substantial tangential acceleration to the orbital velocity vector of a piece of debris such as a speck of paint 1cm^2 in cross section. I am looking to deflect that speck of paint into a container or out of orbit. Could this tech be scaled up to say 10s of meters or larger with a strong enough magnetic field and intense ionizing currents?

    I understand F=qvB , although am not sure how to calculate what the maximum induced surface charge of speck would be (or whether there is one). I think I remember from my electro-mechanics class that on earth roughly the strongest electrostatic force which can be induced is 9N(Would be very substantial for a speck of paint). Is this the case in near earth orbit?

    There is also the issue of B=UoH where Uo=4Pi*10^-7 but at the same time, relative velocity would not be small in orbit and B neither.

    Sorry if it's a little bit of a vague question but I have almost no grasp on orbital mechanics and am just trying to get an idea of whether this is a feasible concept worth doing research around or whether im missing something substantial. The reason I'm looking into it is a proposal for a scholarship application im in the process of writing.

    If I am missing something big, out of interest what would be theoretically the largest particle which could be effectively deflected by a scaled up mass spectrometer or something similar- talking in whole degrees of deflection.

    Thanks for any info or help.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 23, 2017 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    Electrostatic dust accelerators can accelerate picogram masses to a 10 km/s. If you are fine with 1 km/s, a nanogram might work. A naive scaling would suggest a microgram for 100 m/s (deorbiting). Example. But they need the dust particle inside the accelerator, and they have a 3 MV acceleration gradient.

    Outside a spacecraft you won't get close to such a voltage. And you would have to ionize the particle (that is not designed for it) first.

    And where is the point? Every electrostatic interaction would only be effective at a scale of meters. If you can come so close, you can aim for a direct hit of the particle in some absorber.
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