The material samples which were recently delivered to ESA are similar to the ones which will board International Space Station (ISS) as a part of “Euro Material Ageing” project. The vibration test will ensure that the samples can withstand the launch loads without any damage, which is also vital for the safety of the astronauts who will be handling the samples.
The presence of atomic oxygen (ATOX) in low earth orbit (LEO) can affect the samples by either oxidising them or etching away their surface. The ATOX test will give an indication regarding the surface degradation when it is impacted by 5.5eV oxygen particles. On a laboratory scale, only one or two effects (such as: ultra-high vacuum, temperature variation, radiation and atomic oxygen) can be simulated simultaneously whereas in space all the effects will occur at the same time.
The material samples which will return from ISS will be compared to the samples that underwent ATOX test in a laboratory setting. This is expected to reveal significant insights in understanding material ageing in low earth orbit (LEO) and considerably contribute to further research on the topic.
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