Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


Kira Jorgensen Abercromby


The space environment possesses numerous unique and unusual attributes, creating challenges that must be considered in order to accomplish a successful space mission. Two of the detrimental aspects of the space environment include Atomic Oxygen, AO, and Ultraviolet, UV, radiation. UV radiation becomes more severe in space as there is no atmosphere to attenuate incoming photons, thereby exposing spacecraft to radiation that never reaches the surface of the Earth. Overall, space vehicles are exposed to a total of 107.4 Watts/m2 of light shorter than 400 nm. AO is created by the photo disassociation of molecular oxygen by UV radiation with wavelengths less than ~242.1 nm. AO is a major portion of the neutral atmosphere, and is the dominant species for altitudes between 180 and 675 km. Each of these environments can cause significant damage to spacecraft materials as they have sufficient energy to break molecular bonds: a generalization of AO energy is 4.5 +/- 1 eV while Vacuum Ultraviolet, VUV, radiation can break bonds as strong as 12.4 eV. Synergistic affects are observed when these two environments interact with materials simultaneously, resulting in an accelerated erosion rate. An apparatus has been developed in California Polytechnic State University’s, Cal Poly’s, space environments laboratory that can simulate the AO and VUV environments individually and simultaneously. This apparatus utilizes a radio frequency, RF, generator to produce a capacitively coupled plasma to create AO in conjunction with a deuterium lamp capable of emitting UV radiation as short as 115 nm. The system has been shown to produce an AO flux of 1.70 +/- 0.07•1016 atoms/cm2 while providing an equivalent sun power 4.5 times greater the solar output in the 120-200 nm region of UV light; all of this has been performed at a base pressure near 175 mTorr. Long duration tests of 24 hours, which would be analogous to durations used in a material interaction study, have shown an effective fluence of 1.47 +/- 0.06•1021 atoms/cm2, which would equate to an orbital exposure on the order of weeks to months. For the same duration a sample can be exposed to 108 equivalent sun hours of 120-200 nm radiation. Results from the simultaneous exposure also manifested an accelerated erosion rate, the expected synergetic reactions between the two environments.