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Mechanistic Studies of Atomic Oxygen Reactions with Polymers and Combined Effects with Vacuum Ultraviolet Light

  • Masahito Tagawa and Timothy K. Minton

Abstract

This article focuses on mechanistic aspects of hyperthermal atomic oxygen reactions with polymers, which are the major contributor to material degradation in low Earth orbit. Due to the importance of well-controlled experiments in the understanding of the reaction mechanisms, ground-based experimental results obtained by a hyperthermal atomic oxygen beam generated by laser detonation facilities are mainly surveyed. Combined effects of atomic oxygen and vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) light on fluorinated polymers are also described. Such combined effects of hyperthermal atomic oxygen and VUV light are important not only from a fundamental point of view but also for engineering purposes (i.e., methodology for ground-based space environmental simulation). The VUV-sensitive polymers, poly(methyl methacrylate), and Teflon fluorinated ethylene-propylene do not show significant synergistic effects. Instead, the effect of combining atomic oxygen and VUV light produces erosion of the polymer that is the sum of the erosion caused by atomic oxygen and UV light acting individually. The experimental results suggest that material erosion in a complicated space environment may be quantitatively predicted if the erosion yields caused by the individual action of atomic oxygen and VUV light are known.

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