Solid gold pin for space testing

(ORDO NEWS) — Although not much larger than a pencil tip, this solid gold pin is the “pulsing heart” of the LEOX low orbit complex.

As part of the Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory based at ESA’s ESTEC Technical Center in the Netherlands, this test facility is critical to the development of materials that can withstand the erosive effects of atomic oxygen that all missions experience below 1,000 km above the Earth’s surface.

To realistically simulate the environment in low Earth orbit, the LEOX facility generates atomic oxygen moving at a speed of 7.8 km/s.

Atomic oxygen is not easy to obtain on Earth because it is very reactive. This means that the materials used to make the simulator must be as strong as the materials that go into space.

This durable gold pin is used to introduce tiny pulses of oxygen gas molecules into a vacuum chamber, where the molecules are split into atoms using a powerful laser.

Pure gold is one of the few materials that can withstand the combined effects of a laser and highly erosive atomic oxygen.

The simulator generates millions of pulses during each test campaign, and the pins wear out over time and need to be replaced.

They cannot be found in the local hardware store – the engineers had to look for a reliable supplier for a long time.

With the help of the ESTEC mechanical workshop, they found a jewelry store in Italy that offered to make pins using their experience in supplying miniature mechanical gold parts for watchmakers and other industries.


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