AFRL Investigating Space Weather Effects on Satellite Materials

Daniel Engelhart of Assurance Technology Corporation, displays a scale model of satellite XSS-11, which uses Kapton to manage the internal temperature of the satellite. Electron irradiation alters the optical and mechanical properties of the material, leading to non-ideal spacecraft thermal management. (Courtesy photo)

Daniel Engelhart of Assurance Technology Corporation, displays a scale model of satellite XSS-11, which uses Kapton to manage the internal temperature of the satellite. Electron irradiation alters the optical and mechanical properties of the material, leading to non-ideal spacecraft thermal management. (Courtesy photo)

August 13, 2019 | Source: AFRL, Donna Lindner, 5 August 2019

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), in partnership with several universities, has investigated the effects of space weather damage to polyimides, materials used extensively in spacecraft construction due to their high heat resistance.

The researchers determined the previously unknown chemical and physical effects of electron bombardment in Earth's magnetosphere on these polymers. Electrons trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field are the most damaging components of weather in the geosynchronous Earth orbit.

Polyimide films, such as Kapton, are used to construct spacecraft components, including flexible printed circuits, electronics, electronic packaging, wiring, and thermal blankets. This material must endure the extreme and variable radiation conditions present in the operational environment for each spacecraft.

Understanding the processes of radiation damage is a critical part of predicting the long-term behaviors of these products and improving their performance and operational longevity.

According to researchers, the stability of the polymer during and after radiation damage is a serious concern. While Kapton is extremely radiation resistant, it suffers serious performance degradation when exposed to the space environment.