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A Sensitive Technique Using Atomic Force Microscopy to Measure the Low Earth Orbit Atomic Oxygen Erosion of PolymersPolymers such as polyimide Kapton and Teflon FEP (fluorinated ethylene propylene) are commonly used spacecraft materials due to their desirable properties such as flexibility, low density, and in the case of FEP low solar absorptance and high thermal emittance. Polymers on the exterior of spacecraft in the low Earth orbit (LEO) environment are exposed to energetic atomic oxygen. Atomic oxygen erosion of polymers occurs in LEO and is a threat to spacecraft durability. It is therefore important to understand the atomic oxygen erosion yield (E, the volume loss per incident oxygen atom) of polymers being considered in spacecraft design. Because long-term space exposure data is rare and very costly, short-term exposures such as on the shuttle are often relied upon for atomic oxygen erosion determination. The most common technique for determining E is through mass loss measurements. For limited duration exposure experiments, such as shuttle experiments, the atomic oxygen fluence is often so small that mass loss measurements can not produce acceptable uncertainties. Therefore, a recession measurement technique has been developed using selective protection of polymer samples, combined with postflight atomic force microscopy (AFM) analysis, to obtain accurate erosion yields of polymers exposed to low atomic oxygen fluences. This paper discusses the procedures used for this recession depth technique along with relevant characterization issues. In particular, a polymer is salt-sprayed prior to flight, then the salt is washed off postflight and AFM is used to determine the erosion depth from the protected plateau. A small sample was salt-sprayed for AFM erosion depth analysis and flown as part of the Limited Duration Candidate Exposure (LDCE-4,-5) shuttle flight experiment on STS-51. This sample was used to study issues such as use of contact versus non-contact mode imaging for determining recession depth measurements. Error analyses were conducted and the percent probable error in the erosion yield when obtained by the mass loss and recession depth techniques has been compared. The recession depth technique is planned to be used to determine the erosion yield of 42 different polymers in the shuttle flight experiment PEACE (Polymer Erosion And Contamination Experiment) planned to fly in 2002 or 2003.
Document ID
Document Type
Technical Memorandum (TM)
deGroh, Kim K.
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH United States)
Banks, Bruce A.
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH United States)
Clark, Gregory W.
(Manchester Coll. North Manchester, IN United States)
Hammerstrom, Anne M.
(Hathaway Brown School Shaker Heights, OH United States)
Youngstrom, Erica E.
(Hathaway Brown School Shaker Heights, OH United States)
Kaminski, Carolyn
(Hathaway Brown School Shaker Heights, OH United States)
Fine, Elizabeth S.
(Hathaway Brown School Shaker Heights, OH United States)
Marx, Laura M.
(Hathaway Brown School Shaker Heights, OH United States)
Date Acquired
September 7, 2013
Publication Date
December 1, 2001
Subject Category
Nonmetallic Materials
Report/Patent Number
NAS 1.15:211346
Meeting Information
Poly Millenial 2000(Kona, HI)
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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