Laboratory Investigations of Low Earth Orbit Environmental Effects on Spacecraft Materials

by Dr. Jon B. Cross, Los Alamos Natl Lab, United States,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Space


Operations in low earth orbit (100-500 km) must take into consideration the highly oxidative character of the environment. Partial pressures in the range of 10-6-10-7 torr of atomic oxygen are present which produces extensive oxidation of materials facing the direction of travel (ram direction). The ram oxidation is most severe not only because of the high flux (1015 o-atoms/s-cm2) caused by the orbital velocity of the spacecraft but also because of the high collision energy of oxygen atoms with the ram surfaces (translational energy equivalent to approximately 60,000 K). We have shown the need for additional on orbit experiments and have suggested some simple experimental techniques which can be used to relate ground based data to orbital data. We have also indicated the need to understand the underlying reaction mechanism on various surfaces in order to implement design measures to minimize the AO problem.

Subject Headings: Orbits | Environmental issues | Aircraft and spacecraft | Earth materials | Oxygen | Material tests | Metals (chemical) | Coating

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