Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


Kira Abercromby


The space environment is a volatile and challenging place for satellites to survive in. For Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites, atomic oxygen (AO) is a constant corrosive effect that degrades the outer surface of satellites over long durations. Atomic oxygen exists in the atmosphere between 180 and 675 km and has a relatively high energy at 4.5 eV, which allows AO to break molecular bonds in materials on the surfaces of spacecraft. As the number and complexity of CubeSat missions increase, there is an increased risk that AO degradation on commercial off the shelf parts (COTS), such as antenna, could degrade the satellite’s ability to communicate with ground systems. This thesis looks at how AO erosion affects the performance of patch antennas for CubeSat applications. Patch antennas are small, cheap, low-profile antennas that can be used on CubeSats to communicate with the ground or other satellites. Patch antennas are semi-directional, providing higher gain and higher available frequencies than omnidirectional antennas. An AO chamber in the California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo’s (Cal Poly) Spacecraft Environments Testing Lab was used to expose the patch antennas for 24-hour and 48-hour tests. The 24-hour exposure saw an average AO fluence of 8.757 ± 0.807•1020 atoms/cm2 which corresponds to roughly 3.5 months of on-orbit AO exposure on the Ram side when in a 28.5° inclined orbit with an altitude of 400 km. The 48-hour exposure saw an average AO fluence of 1.595 ± 0.076•1021 atoms/cm2 which corresponds to approximately 6.4 months of on-orbit AO exposure on the Ram side when in a 28.5° inclined orbit with an altitude of 400 km. To test the performance of the patch antenna before and after AO exposure, an anechoic chamber in the Microwave Lab at Cal Poly was used to measure boresight gain and radiation pattern in the E-plane and H-plane. From the testing in the anechoic chamber it was determined that there was no apparent difference in the patch antenna’s gain and radiation pattern before and after AO exposure. By using a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FTIR) it was discovered that the outer surface of the patch antennas were forming a silicon dioxide layer, which did not affect the performance of the patch antenna. Since silicon dioxide is resistant to AO erosion, it may be beneficial for CubeSats to include silica additives to their exposed antenna surfaces to prevent erosion.