Many organic-based materials exposed to low Earth orbit (LEO) environment undergo dramatic changes and irreversible degradation of physical characteristics. While many protective schemes are used to reduce the effects of LEO environment, protection of such materials in LEO still remains a major challenge, especially for future long duration missions or space stations.
In addition to the traditional protective coating approaches, surface modification processes were proposed and successfully used as an approach to protect polymers, thermal control paints and other components and structures from LEO environment. Among them two surface modification processes, the Photosil™ and the Implantox™ that used new approaches in silicon functionalization, as in the Photosil™, and a modified ion implantation process, as in the Implantox™ allowed to incorporate up to 36 at.% of Si into the upper surface layer regions of the treated polymers, composite materials, thermal control paints and other high-performance organic materials.
The tests conducted in plasma and fast atomic oxygen (FAO) beam facilities at comparable to LEO fluencies (∼ (1–2)·1020 at.O/cm2 ) demonstrated erosion yields lower than −10−26 cm3at, unchanged thermal optical properties, where important, and excellent thermal match between the treated layers and the bulk of the treated materials. After FAO testing, the Implantox™ treated samples were clear and transparent, with a glassy-like shiny surface with no signs of any surface erosion.