Unfortunately, all tested candidate wire insulations for aerospace vehicles were susceptible to arc tracking. Therefore, a test procedure was designed at the NASA Lewis Research Center to select the insulation type least susceptible to arc tracking. This test procedure addresses the following three areas of concern: (1) probability of initiation, (2) probability of reinitiation (restrike), and (3) extent of arc tracking damage (propagation rate). Item 2 (restrike probability) is an issue if power can be terminated from and reapplied to the arcing wire (by a switch, fuse, or resettable circuit breaker). The degree of damage from an arcing event (item 3) refers to how easily the arc chars nearby insulation and propagates along the wire pair. Ease of nearby insulation charring can be determined by measuring the rate of arc propagation. Insulation that chars easily will propagate the arc faster than insulation that does not char very easily.
A popular polyimide insulated wire for aerospace vehicles, MIL-W-81381, was tested to determine a degree of damage from an arcing event (item 3) in the following three environments: (1) microgravity with air at 1-atm pressure, (2) 1g with air at 1 atm, and (3) 1g within a 10^-6 Torr vacuum.
Comparison of MIL-W-81381 insulated wire (20 AWG), in each environment of interest, with respect to the distance the arc travels in 16 sec.
The microgravity 1-atm air was the harshest environment, with respect to the rate of damage of arc tracking, for the 20 AWG (American Wiring Gauge) MIL-W-81381 wire insulation type . The vacuum environment resulted in the least damage. Further testing is planned to determine if the environmental results are consistent between insulation types and to evaluate the other two parameters associated with arc tracking susceptibility.
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Last updated April 17, 1996
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