Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


Kira Abercromby


The space environment contains many harsh characteristics that are harmful to spacecraft and threaten the success of space missions. Atomic oxygen (AO) and outgassing are among the chief concerns that spacecraft engineers must design for in order to ensure the safety of a spacecraft. AO is monatomic oxygen (O1) that is created when Ultraviolet (UV) radiation photochemically disassociates diatomic oxygen (O2) in space. AO is the dominant atmospheric constituent between 175 and 600 km, and is a great concern in low earth orbits. Orbital AO has an average impact energy of 4.5 ± 1 eV with orbiting spacecraft and is also very reactive; this makes AO very corrosive to spacecraft materials. Outgassing is the process by which trapped and adsorbed gases are expelled from materials. The high temperatures and low pressure of the spacecraft environment exacerbate the process of outgassing. Outgassing is problematic for spacecraft because outgassed material can condense on sensitive surfaces such as optical and thermal surfaces, or the material can create clouds that impede sensors ability to observe their target. While it has been shown that many aspects of the spacecraft environment act synergistically together to further degrade spacecraft performance, there is very little information and data available on the interactions between AO and outgassing. Cal Poly’s Space Environments Lab is equipped with an AO simulation vacuum chamber (MAX) and an outgas testing chamber (Micro-VCM) which is capable of testing materials for total mass loss (TML) and collected volatile condensable mass (CVCM) outgassing values. MAX and Micro-VCM were used in tandem to test different spacecraft materials in order to determine if AO exposure had any effect on the respective materials TML and CVCM values. Prior to conducting testing, Micro-VCM was refurbished and validated since it was recently donated to Cal Poly and was not in working order upon arrival. Three Sheldahl materials were tested: aluminum coated 1.0 mil Kapton tape, 2.0 mil Kapton film coated with ITO on one side and aluminum on the other, and 2.0 Kapton film coated with aluminum. The materials were exposed to an average AO fluence of 1.33 ± 0.130 × 1021 atoms/cm2 for AO testing. The TML and CVCM results from four of the six tests did not show any significant changes between AO samples and control samples, partially due to large error bars that stem from using a semi-microbalance instead of a full microbalance. However, the AO exposed ITO-Kapton-Al did show an increase in TML from -0.03 ± 0.09% to 0.19 ± 0.08% for one procedure, while the aluminum Kapton tape CVCM decreased from 0.81 ± 0.12% to 0.63 ± 0.12% for another procedure. These results show that two materials exhibited a change in their outgassing properties after AO exposure. More testing on the subject is warranted and should be conducted in order to collect more data points and begin defining trend lines that can further describe the effects of AO on outgassing.