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3rd ISSE National Conference on Complex Engineering Systems of National

Importance: Current Trends & Future Perspective (INAC-03), October 12-13, 2017
Space Systems

SS-0001 Effectiveness of Ground Isolation Schemes

and its Demonstration in Heavy Lift Launcher
N.Sairam1, Scientist/Engineer’SF’, P.M.Abraham2, Scientist/Engineer’G’
Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC)/ISRO, Trivandrum
{n_sairam@vssc.gov.in1, pm_abraham@vssc.gov.in2 }

Abstract—Typical launcher has different avionic systems Electrical umbilical, power switching modules, and
like Power, Instrumentation, Navigation Guidance Control sequencing system packages of Liquid stage caters to
(NGC), Pyro. Inter system and intra system connections exist Strapon functions also. The strapons are attached to the core
among various onboard avionics modules distributed in
through separable links. The avionics of strapons are placed
various subassemblies. The undesired currents from shielding
and ground looping currents interfere in the functioning of in avionic deck plate at the strapon nose cone. Systems in
these systems as a result of reference to common chassis. To heavy lift launcher can be functionally classified as a) Power
combat the ground loops and system malfunctioning, an system b) Pyro and sequencing system c) Instrumentation
optimum ground isolation scheme was generated and system d) Flight termination system e) NGC system f) RF
implemented in heavy lift launcher. This paper briefly explains System
grounding isolation schemes implemented in heavy lift
launcher and its effectiveness, in spite of anomalies observed in
one of the mission.
All Avionic packages should have individual power return
from power source. The power current should-not flow
I. INTRODUCTION through a return wire used as monitoring return. The return
configuration or the ground potential should-not change
A properly designed and implemented grounding with stage separation or with checkout system disconnected.
architecture will minimize requirements of costly shielding High voltage electronics circuit assembly should be
and filtering methods against EMI. Interfacing schemes and designed to have enough insulation by separation/air gaps &
the layout configuration of avionics systems is an essential insulating coatings to avoid any electric discharge including
criterion for achieving the required accuracy in partial discharge/corona. Electric cabling/wiring & power
measurement and NGC systems as well as to have an EMI electronics modules/assembly subjected to high voltages are
free system. Isolation between avionic systems varies as per designed and individually tested for partial discharge to
the required functional interfacing scheme. From ESD point ensure any microscopic voids/imperfections in insulation.
of view ground paths and connections always have some All high voltage monitoring shall be through high common
finite impedance. Current flowing through this impedance mode withstanding data acquisition units. Most of the
causes voltage drops. These voltage drops, which are the elements are functionally grouped and electromagnetic
differences between the final reference point, i.e. vehicle compatibility aspects are taken care in the avionic
chassis and individual system grounds, are the major component and harness design itself.
attributes in design of vehicle ground isolation schemes.
Isolation of grounds is an important concept in launch Also general guidelines adopted specific to avionic
vehicle avionics system integration. Isolation substantially systems are as follows: A) No return point shall be kept
reduces the net D.C and A.C noise currents. floating. Isolated power source return shall be referenced to
chassis through bleeder resistance. B) Avoid couplings of
II. HEAVY LIFT LAUNCHER SYSTEM returns of different systems using transformers, differential
CONFIGURATION buffer amplifiers, opto-isolators, etc. C) Navigation system
shall be kept floating with respect to all other systems. D)
Analog monitoring are routed through differential buffers.
Heavy lift launcher is equipped with two Solid stage E) Pyro system shall be isolated from other systems. Pyro
strapons, an intermediate liquid stage and an upper system battery returns are referred to chassis through 10kΩ.
cryogenic stage. All the electronic systems are housed in F) Use of independent batteries for Instrumentation, Tele-
four sub-assemblies at various stages. Electronic systems command/Destruct, NGC, and Pyro systems. G) Use of
housed in Equipment Bay (EB) cater to the diversified DC/DC converters for all major units. H) All chassis
functional requirements of EB, Cryo stage, heat shield and referred monitoring are routed through Differential buffer
Payload Adapter. Liquid stage avionics are mounted on amplifiers. I) The DROPS link used for communicating
dedicated avionic subassembly. One interstage serves as a between dataprocessing units to ICU is transformer coupled.
common link for connecting the strapons, liquid and cryo J) No onboard processor return shall be directly connected
stages. Liquid stage & Strapon stages are powered from to checkout system. K) Vibration/ Shock sensors shall be
common batteries except for flight termination system. electrically isolated from chassis using isolating studs. L)
Flight termination system is autonomous for each stage. For vibration isolated decks electrical continuity shall be

3rd ISSE National Conference on Complex Engineering Systems of National
Importance: Current Trends & Future Perspective (INAC-03), October 12-13, 2017
Space Systems
maintained using bonding straps. M) NGC 1553 bus is instrumentation and NGC systems and chassis measured to
transformer coupled. Thus isolation between NGC packages be more than 3Kohm.
are ensured. O) All Avionic packages should have
individual power return from power source. P) Ground
potential shift with stage separation or with umbilical V. VALIDATION AND DEMONSTRATION OF GROUND
pullout must be kept minimal. ISOLATION SCHEME

A. Validation
The on board and checkout monitoring schemes, with return
configuration to chassis are simulated in PSPICE for various
For discussion, Liquid stage avionic sub-assembly from
flight cases determining the impact on each of the
heavy lift launcher is selected.
monitoring. Changes in chassis voltage with respect to
As mentioned earlier, like other sub-assemblies, liquid instrumentation GND and its impact on on-board voltage
stage has avionic sub-systems are functionally classified as monitoring is studied pre-flight and documented.
power, Pyro and sequencing system, Instrumentation
B. Observations in a Mission
system, Tele-command system and NGC system. Separate
grounds are maintained for each electrical sub-system in During 38s-48s of flight time in a mission, Battery voltage
liquid : a) Battery Returns b) Instrumentation System Return monitoring and chassis referred parameters had rise/dip in
c) NGC System Return d) Electro-mechanical actuator’s strapons, Liquid stage, Cryo stage and Equipment Bay. On,
High voltage Return e) Tele-command & Destruct System further analysis it was found that liquid stage NGC 1 & 2
Return f) Pyro System Return. All battery returns are batteries alone showed a rise while all other parameters
isolated from each other and as well as to other systems. All including battery voltage monitoring, converter monitoring,
the battery return lines are referred to chassis using fixed and thermocouples dipped.
resistors and no battery return line is left floating. Since
batteries returns are directly connected to chassis, for
galvanic isolation, major avionic packages are powered by
DC-DC converters. Thus each of sub-system has primary
battery return and isolated secondary return. However, to
have star type single ground plane, each package’s power
return is coupled and made as single secondary system
return, which is isolated from other system’s secondary
return and all other primary return including its own primary

Health of all systems is monitored in instrumentation

system where various system returns get coupled.
Differential buffers employed in the monitoring interfaces
provide finite isolation among various returns. Multiple
battery voltage monitoring through telemetry reduces
isolation between instrumentation common and chassis. Fig 2 Plot showing rise in NGC-1 voltage and dip in
Also, multiple monitoring from a system like control system thermocouple monitoring of Liquid stage
through telemetry reduces isolation between system
common and instrumentation common. Further, system
C. Analysis
common gets connected to chassis through instrumentation
common. Analysis has been carried out in PSpice. For a similar
observation, there are three possibilities a) Liquid stage
In the case of interface, if coupling is required then NGC battery -1 live touching chassis b) Liquid stage NGC
maximum isolation is provided using transformers, battery -2 live touching chassis c) L110 NGC battery returns
differential buffer amplifier, opto isolators, etc. If the signals short to chassis. According to simulation carried out, third
are coming from the other stages, the interface scheme is possibility is ruled out because magnitude is not matching.
through differential buffer amplifier (DBA).
Functional chain was working without any problem as
As per grounding plan isolation among individual
evident from flight data (serial link telemetry data). Flight
systems are worked out. However all the systems finally
observation are recreated using PSpice simulation both in
referred to chassis always there will be finite impedence
among the systems and as well as to each of the system polarity as well as in magnitude according to the first and
return to the chassis. During the sub-assembly level checks second possibility. Concluded to the momentary short of
and as well as during vehicle checks, isolation lower stage NGC-1 OR NGC-2 battery High to chassis.
measurements are carried out between each of the systems However exact location of failure not evident from flight
and between system returns to chassis. Isolation among data

3rd ISSE National Conference on Complex Engineering Systems of National
Importance: Current Trends & Future Perspective (INAC-03), October 12-13, 2017
Space Systems
Ground isolation systems are designed in such a way that
all systems are isolated with other systems atleast by finite
lumped impedance. Failure of primary power source is not
affecting the secondary source in turn functioning of avionic
packages connected to it. Even though all systems are
referred to common ground connection (vehicle chassis),
only monitoring are affected because of ground current.
From flight data it is demonstrated working of ground
isolation schemes. Since all avionic packages are powered
with dedicated DC-DC converters, failure of any one of
avionic package will be limited to that package alone.
Future avionics design shall be with intelligent power cut-
off and auto detection of ground currents thus isolating the
source of such currents. For that effective chassis voltage or
current monitoring shall be employed.


Authors wished to thank Shri.B.Jayakumar, PD GSLV

Mk-III for encouraging to write this paper. Authors wished
to acknowledge Shri.Arun.K, MVIT/VSSC and his team
members for providing data for completing this paper.
Authors wished to thank Shri.N.Narayana Moorthy, Former
AD VSSC/ISRO for his continuous support in system
integration area. Authors wished to thank Shri.(Late)
B.Manoj Kumar, Former GD VSSC who always enlighten
them with his valuable suggestions. Authors wish to thank
all team members of AVN group, GSLV Mk-III for their

[1] Electrical Grounding Architecture for Un-manned Spacecraft by
[2] Electrical Grounding Practices for Aerospace hardware, NASA
[3] Grounding Demystified- A presentation from compatible Electronics
[4] Modeling of Conductive and Radiated Electromagnetic Disturbances
–Special Application to Cable Harness Interference by Jonas Ekman,
Jan van Deventer, April 2005