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Investigation of Teflon FEP Embrittlement on Spacecraft in Low Earth OrbitTeflon(registered trademark) FEP (fluorinated ethylene-propylene) is commonly used on exterior spacecraft surfaces in the low Earth orbit (LEO) environment for thermal control. Silverized or aluminized FEP is used for the outer layer of thermal control blankets because of its low solar absorptance and high thermal emittance. FEP is also preferred over other spacecraft polymers because of its relatively high resistance to atomic oxygen erosion. Because of its low atomic oxygen erosion yield, FEP has not been protected in the space environment. Recent, long term space exposures such as on the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF, 5.8 years in space), and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST, after 3.6 years in space) have provided evidence of LEO environmental degradation of FEP. These exposures provide unique opportunities for studying environmental degradation because of the long durations and the different conditions (such as differences in altitude) of the exposures. Samples of FEP from LDEF and from HST (retrieved during its first servicing mission) have been evaluated for solar induced embrittlement and for synergistic effects of solar degradation and atomic oxygen. Micro-indenter results indicate that the surface hardness increased as the ratio of atomic oxygen fluence to solar fluence decreased for the LDEF samples. FEP multilayer insulation (MLI) retrieved from HST provided evidence of severe embrittlement on solar facing surfaces. Micro-indenter measurements indicated higher surface hardness values for these samples than LDEF samples, but the solar exposures were higher. Cracks induced during bend testing were significantly deeper for the HST samples with the highest solar exposure than for LDEF samples with similar atomic oxygen fluence to solar fluence ratios. If solar fluences are compared, the LDEF samples appear as damaged as HST samples, except that HST had deeper induced cracks. The results illustrate difficulties in comparing LEO exposed materials from different missions. Because the HST FEP appears more damaged than LDEF FEP based on depth of embrittlement, other causes for FEP embrittlement in addition to atomic oxygen and ultraviolet (UV) radiation, such as thermal effects and the possible role of soft x-ray radiation, need to be considered. FEP that was exposed to soft x-rays in a ground test facility, showed embrittlement similar to that witnessed in LEO, which indicates that the observed differences between LDEF and HST FEP might be attributed to the different soft x-ray fluences during these two missions.
Document ID
Document Type
Technical Memorandum (TM)
deGroh, Kim K. (NASA Lewis Research Center Cleveland, OH United States)
Smith, Daniela C. (Cleveland State Univ. Cleveland, OH United States)
Date Acquired
September 6, 2013
Publication Date
December 1, 1997
Subject Category
Nonmetallic Materials
Report/Patent Number
NAS 1.15:113153
Meeting Information
International Symposium on Materials in a Space Environment(Toulouse)
Funding Number(s)
PROJECT: RTOP 953-73-10
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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NameType 19980017996.pdf STI