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Techniques for Measuring Low Earth Orbital 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, a 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 reaction with polymers causes erosion, which 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. The most common technique for determining E is through mass loss measurements. For limited duration exposure experiments, such as shuttle experiments, where the atomic oxygen fluence is often so low that mass loss measurements can not produce acceptable uncertainties, recession measurements based on atomic force microscopy analyses can be used. Equally necessary to knowing the mass loss or recession depth for determining the erosion yield of polymers is the knowledge of the atomic oxygen fluence that the polymers were exposed to in space. This paper discusses the procedures and relevant issues for mass loss and recession depth measurements for passive atomic oxygen erosion yield characterization of polymers, along with techniques for active atomic oxygen fluence and erosion characterization. One active atomic oxygen erosion technique discussed is a new technique based on optical measurements. Details including the use of both semi-transparent and opaque polymers for active erosion measurement are reviewed.
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)
Demko, Rikako
(Cleveland State Univ. Cleveland, OH United States)
Date Acquired
September 7, 2013
Publication Date
March 1, 2002
Subject Category
Nonmetallic Materials
Report/Patent Number
NAS 1.15:211479
Meeting Information
2002 Symposium and Exhibition(Long Beach, CA)
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.

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