Changing the color of space materials can help in remote measurement of their degradation

(ORDO NEWS) — Over the next six months, a camera system on the outside of the ISS will take pictures of various material samples, gathering information about how they will be affected by the harsh conditions of space.

The scientists want to find out how color changes in the material could indicate degradation caused by exposure to the space environment.

A key goal of the study will be to correlate color change with changes in material properties such as strength, chemical composition and electrical conductivity.

In low Earth orbit, materials are exposed to the damaging effects of atomic oxygen, ultraviolet radiation, and high-energy electrons.

“We want to know not only how space affects materials, but also why it happens,” said Elena Plis, senior research engineer at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), who leads the research team.

“For example, we know that the widely used Kapton polyimide film changes its conductivity in space, but we are wondering why this happens and how we can prevent it or use it to our advantage.”

Regular photography of materials in the visible and infrared spectrum will provide a dynamic record of what happens to optical properties in space.

Scientists will analyze materials returned to Earth to better understand how space degradation can affect material properties and use this information for long-term space mission planning.

The experiment will also help engineers evaluate new materials that could provide future spacecraft designers with new opportunities.

The material portfolio includes various types of polyimides, liquid crystal polymers (LCP), polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane (POSS), carbon and glass fiber reinforced polymers, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) polyester films.

The samples are expected to be returned to Earth next spring. The materials will be examined in detail to understand the extent of their degradation, and compared with identical samples that were in simulated space conditions in the laboratory. In total, the samples will be subjected to 10 different characterization methods.

“We will try to relate optical properties to surface changes and chemical changes,” Plis said. “Through our ground experiments, we hope to understand these changes and the physics behind them.”

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