Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


Kira Abercromby


In order to design a successful space system, the unique challenges of the space environment it will operate in must be considered during the design process. Atomic oxygen (AO) is a detrimental environmental effect found in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) that affects spacecraft surfaces by oxidizing and eroding material over time, particularly polymers. Carbon fiber/epoxy composites are a commonly used spacecraft material affected by AO exposure. Carbon composites are used as a structural material, such as on solar panels; their large surface area therefore is a potential contamination source to sensitive components. The Space Environments and Testing Lab at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly SLO) includes an apparatus that can simulate AO in the LEO environment. This apparatus was used to expose carbon composite samples to AO before being tested for short beam strength to measure the effect on material properties. Results showed no significant difference in short beam strength for a 24-hour AO exposure compared to unexposed samples, but a 4% decrease for samples with a 48-hour exposure. Previous work at Cal Poly SLO found that AO-exposed composite generated particulate contaminants. Tape lift tests and mass measurements of samples were conducted before and after AO exposure to characterize the particulate contamination generated and percent mass loss. It was found that AO exposure increased the percent mass loss by 1.5% for 24-hour exposure and 3% for 48-hour exposure. The tape lift percent area coverage increased by 2.5% near sample ends and 0.35% in the middle after AO exposure.