Articles | Volume 5, issue 2
Research article
06 Sep 2016
Research article |  | 06 Sep 2016

Influence of probe geometry on measurement results of non-ideal thermal conductivity sensors

Patrick Tiefenbacher, Norbert I. Kömle, Wolfgang Macher, and Günter Kargl

Abstract. The thermal properties of the surface and subsurface layers of planets and planetary objects yield important information that allows us to better understand the thermal evolution of the body itself and its interactions with the environment. Various planetary bodies of our Solar System are covered by so-called regolith, a granular and porous material. On such planetary bodies the dominant heat transfer mechanism is heat conduction via IR radiation and contact points between particles. In this case the energy balance is mainly controlled by the effective thermal conductivity of the top surface layers, which can be directly measured by thermal conductivity probes. A traditionally used method for measuring the thermal conductivity of solid materials is the needle-probe method. Such probes consist of thin steel needles with an embedded heating wire and temperature sensors. For the evaluation of the thermal conductivity of a specific material the temperature change with time is determined by heating a resistance wire with a well-defined electrical current flowing through it and simultaneously measuring the temperature increase inside the probe over a certain time. For thin needle probes with a large length-to-diameter ratio it is mathematically easy to derive the thermal conductivity, while this is not so straightforward for more rugged probes with a larger diameter and thus a smaller length-to-diameter ratio. Due to the geometry of the standard thin needle probes they are mechanically weak and subject to bending when driven into a soil. Therefore, using them for planetary missions can be problematic.

In this paper the thermal conductivity values determined by measurements with two non-ideal, ruggedized thermal conductivity sensors, which only differ in length, are compared to each other. Since the theory describing the temperature response of non-ideal sensors is highly complicated, those sensors were calibrated with an ideal reference sensor in various solid and granular materials. The calibration procedure and the results are described in this work.