Kelvin probe measurements: investigations of the patch effect with applications to ST-7 and LISA
One of the possible noise sources for the space-based gravitational wave detector LISA (the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna), associated with its test masses, is that due to spatial variations in surface potential (or patch effect) across the surfaces of the test mass and its housing. Such variations will lead to force gradients which may result in a significant acceleration noise term. Another noise source is that due to temporal variations in the surface potential, which in conjunction with any ambient dc voltage or net free charge on the test mass may also produce a significant acceleration noise term. The ST-7 demonstrator mission is designed to test technologies for LISA, including the gravitational reference sensor, which contains a gold-coated gold/platinum (Au/Pt) alloy test mass, surrounded by a housing that carries the electrodes for sensing and control. We have used a Kelvin probe at the Goddard Space Flight Center to make spatial and temporal measurements of contact potential differences for a selection of materials (Au/Pt, beryllia, alumina, titanium) and coatings (gold, diamond-like carbon, indium tin oxide, titanium carbide). Our investigations indicate that subject to certain assumptions all of these coatings appear to satisfy the ST-7 requirement that patch effect spatial variations should be less than 100 mV. The data also revealed evidence of behavioural trends with pressure and possible contamination effects. Regarding temporal variations, the current accuracy of the instrument is limiting the measurements at a level above the likely LISA requirements. We discuss our results and draw some conclusions of relevance to LISA.