ISS experiment hopes to determine how long materials last in space

Resulting data will be used to construct long-lasting space vehicles.
By Laurel Kornfeld | May 11, 2018
To determine how long various materials will last in space, Kim de Groh, senior materials research engineer at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland will send 138 different material samples to the International Space Station (ISS), where they will be placed on an external platform for a year before being returned home.

Knowing the shelf life of objects in space and when to replace those that are no longer safe or effective is key to the success of long-term space missions.

Various versions of NASA's Materials ISS Experiment (MISSE) have been testing the time it takes for materials in space to erode since 2001.

This particular set of samples, which de Groh is currently collecting, MISSE 9, will be sent to the ISS in April on a Dragon spacecraft during SpaceX's CRS-14 supply mission, and will be the first to use the new MISSE-Flight Facility (MISSE-FF) testing platform.

De Groh and colleague Bruce Banks have developed a model predicting the time materials in space will take to erode based on previous missions.

In space, materials are subject to potential erosion from atomic oxygen and radiation.

Solar radiation breaks down oxygen (O2), which is made up of two atoms, into individual atoms, creating atomic oxygen. Any object in low-Earth orbit, from the ISS itself to resupply vehicles, is subject to reaction with atomic oxygen, which erodes their surface materials.

Space radiation can cause materials to become brittle and crack.

The experiment will involve placing materials in four separate directions to measure which cause the most and the least erosion. These include forward-facing or "ram," backward-facing or "wake," space-facing or "zenith," and Earth-facing or "nadir."

"We will fly some of the materials in different orientations, as the same material can react differently in each flight direction," de Groh explained.

Expectations are that the forward-facing material will be exposed to the highest levels of atomic oxygen and the backward- facing material to the lowest levels. Those facing space are predicted to experience higher levels of solar radiation than those facing Earth.

To record color changes and/or cracks, photos of the materials will be taken once per month.




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