Known fact: Heat causes a charge to accumulate on the hull of a craft at reentry.


  • Does the hull acquire a charge during the course of its ascent too?
  • What magnitude is this charge? (My guess is it would be a small fraction compared to the charge generated at reentry owing to the velocity difference.)
  • How is this charge dissipated?
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You might want to read the story of Apollo 12. $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2013 at 8:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ See also: ITO. $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2013 at 12:39

2 Answers 2



How do I know that? Well, multiple sources say that a layer of 'electrically charged plasma' develops around the ship.

Since the plasma is electrically charged (highly charged), some of that charge will be transferred to the hull of the vehicle.

I couldn't find any info on the amount of charge generated, but I'm sure it's quite high considering the forces involved.

I found a paper on the subject of 'Spacecraft Charging and Hazards to Electronics in Space' - which seems to be exactly what we're looking for. It primarily deals with the effects of this plasma and charges in orbit, but much of the information is relevant to reentry also.


There should be little charge remaining on the rocket body during powered ascent, despite the significant charge generation.

The reason being that the rocket body forms fraction of a percent of the very large conductive body that is passing up through the atmosphere. The vast majority of it is the conductive and neutrally charged plasma exhaust from the engines, which is many times the volume of the rocket body.

Effectively, the rocket earths itself out against a very large amount of atmosphere.

Which is part of the reason why one does not launch through lightning-forming clouds. Lightning loves to be introduced to a half-a-kilometer or longer conductive rod that gets rammed through a charged cloud!


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