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Cold Cathode Ion Gage Experiment

NSSDCA ID: 1971-008C-07

Mission Name: Apollo 14 Lunar Module /ALSEP
Principal Investigator:Prof. Francis S. Johnson


The Cold Cathode Gage Experiment (CCGE, also referred to as the Cold Cathode Ion Gage, or CCIG) was deployed as part of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments package (ALSEP) on Apollos 12, 14, and 15. It was designed to measure the density of neutral particles to determine the amount of gas present at the lunar surface. This data helps constrain the source and loss mechanisms of the tenuous lunar atmosphere. A cold cathode ionization gage was used for this purpose. The gage can determine the amount of gas present, expressed as concentrations of particles per cubic cm or pressure in torrs, but not its composition. The CCGE gage head was roughly 18 x 10 x 12 cm and used 6.5 W. The instrument consisted of the cold cathode ionization gage and associated electronics.

The CCGE was carried in a compartment of the SIDE instrument and was removed and set up on the lunar surface by the deploying astronaut. The gage unit was connected by a wire cable to the SIDE package, because the CCGE and SIDE electronics comprise an integrated system. On Apollo 12 the stiffness and spring action of the cold wrapped wire cable made it difficult to deploy and orient the gage head properly, so the wrapping was removed for Apollo 14, but the spring effect still made proper location and orientation of the gage head a problem, but it was finally left with the sensor opening generally upward.

The cold cathode ionization gage is a cylindrical sensor unit in a stainless steel envelope consisting of stainless steel coaxial electrodes. The cathode is a spool running through the center axis of the cylinder. A cylindrical anode surrounds the cathode, and both electrodes are in an axial magnetic field of 0.09 Tesla (900 Gauss) produced by a permanent magnet. A magnetic shield is mounted around the gage and its magnet. A potential of +4500 volts was applied to the anode by a power supply consisting of a regulator, convertor, voltage-multiplier network, and feedback network to the low voltage supply. This created a self-sustained Townsend discharge in the gage in which electrons remained largely trapped in the magnetic field with enough energy to ionize any gas particles they would strike. The ions would then be collected at the cathode, producing a current. The cathode was connected to an auto-ranging, auto-zeroing electrometer that measured currents in the range 1.0E-13 to 1.0E-16 amps. A temperature detector was included to enable conversion of the readings to equivalent pressure.

Baffles are mounted in the cylinder between the opening and the electrodes. A dust cover closed but did not seal the opening before deployment and was pulled aside by the squib motor and spring on command. Because the CCGE was not evacuated, adsorbed gases produced an elevated response at turn-on. The gases escaped from the gage rapidly at first and then slowly baked out during the lunar day.

The device was sensitive to gas density rather than pressure. The response varied somewhat with gas composition, but errors due to the uncertainties in composition were expected to be within a factor of two. The data from the experiment have been expressed as equivalent density for a nitrogen lunar atmosphere. The CCGE had three auto-switched, overlapping, sensitivity ranges enabling detection of the lunar atmosphere from 2.E+5 to 1.E+11 particles/cubic cm (equivalent nitrogen). In the normal operational mode the basic cycle repeated five measurements (separated by 2.4 s), three measurements (separated by 40 s), and 16 seconds of calibration and auto-zeroing every 2.5 min. Temperature and other engineering functions were also sampled within this 2.5-min cycle. In a ground commanded special mode, one measurement was obtained every 2.4 s, with no other measurements being performed. More details are available in "Apollo scientific experiments data handbook," NASA TM X-58131, August 1974 (revised April 1976).

The Apollo 14 ALSEP central station was located at 3.6440 S latitude, 17.4775 W longitude. The CCGE was deployed approximately 16 meters south-southeast of the central station and 180 meters W of the Lunar Module. The instrument was turned on at approximately 23:59 UT on 5 February 1971. The readings were initially saturated at full scale because of gas trapped within the gage. At about 1:20 UT on 6 February the level was below saturation (4 x 10E-7 torr) and continued to decrease. At 1:40 UT the high voltage power supply was turned off because it was believed arcing was taking place. The unit was operated for short periods of time during LM venting before the second EVA and during housekeeping functions after the second EVA and was then turned off until lunar sunset. The instrument operated during lunar night but was only turned on for brief periods during the lunar day to minimize the possibility of high voltage arcing. On 5 April 1971 the analog to digital converter became erratic and no processing of positive-value data inputs was possible. This problem was not serious and affected only the temperature and housekeeping data. Full daytime operation was obtained in November 1971. Near the end of nighttime operation in February 1972 the data dropped out but returned at sunrise 4 days later. This problem occurred intermittently during nighttime operation until November 1972 when all nighttime data were lost for the next two months, followed by complete nighttime data in late March 1973 and then two more months of no nighttime data.

On 15 April 1973 the CCGE/SIDE went into standby mode, attributed to arcing in the high-voltage supply at elevated daytime temperatures. Operation was restored over the next lunar night and operation after this was not attempted during the lunar day. On 5 January 1975 the instrument was commanded off.

Alternate Names

  • Apollo14ALSEP/ColdCathodeIonGageExperiment
  • CCGE
  • CCIG
  • S058

Facts in Brief

Mass: 5.7 kg
Power (avg): 6.5 W
Bit rate (avg): 0.083 kbps

Funding Agency

  • NASA-Office of Space Science Applications (United States)


  • Planetary Science: Atmospheres

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this experiment can be directed to: Dr. David R. Williams



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
Dr. Dallas E. EvansOther InvestigatorNASA Johnson Space Center
Prof. Francis S. JohnsonPrincipal InvestigatorUniversity of Texas, Dallas

Selected References

  • Johnson, F. S., et al., Cold-cathode-gage experiment (lunar atmosphere detector) - Apollo 14-preliminary science report, NASA, SP-272, Wash., DC, 1971.

Related Information at NSSDCA

Apollo 12 CCGE Instrument
Apollo 14 CCGE Instrument and Data
Apollo 15 CCGE Instrument and Data

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