This innovation enables a means for actively measuring atomic oxygen fluence (accumulated atoms of atomic oxygen per area) that has impinged upon spacecraft surfaces. Telemetered data from the device provides spacecraft designers, researchers, and mission managers with real-time measurement of atomic oxygen fluence, which is useful for prediction of the durability of spacecraft materials and components. The innovation is a compact fluence measuring device that allows in-space measurement and transmittance of measured atomic oxygen fluence as a function of time based on atomic oxygen erosion yields (the erosion yield of a material is the volume of material that is oxidized per incident oxygen atom) of materials that have been measured in low Earth orbit. It has a linear electrical response to atomic oxygen fluence, and is capable of measuring high atomic oxygen fluences (up to >1022 atoms/cm2), which are representative of multi-year low-Earth orbital missions (such as the International Space Station).

The durability or remaining structural lifetime of solar arrays that consist of polymer blankets on which the solar cells are attached can be predicted if one knows the atomic oxygen fluence that the solar array blanket has been exposed to. In addition, numerous organizations that launch space experiments into low-Earth orbit want to know the accumulated atomic oxygen fluence that their materials or components have been exposed to.

The device is based on the erosion yield of pyrolytic graphite. It uses two 12° inclined wedges of graphite that are over a grit-blasted fused silica window covering a photodiode. As the wedges erode, a greater area of solar illumination reaches the photodiode. A reference photodiode is also used that receives unobstructed solar illumination and is oriented in the same direction as the pyrolytic graphite covered photodiode. The short-circuit current from the photodiodes is measured and either sent to an onboard data logger, or transmitted to a receiving station on Earth. By comparison of the short-circuit currents from the fluence-measuring photodiode and the reference photodiode, one can compute the accumulated atomic oxygen fluence arriving in the direction that the fluence monitor is pointing.

The device produces a signal that is linear with atomic oxygen fluence using a material whose atomic oxygen erosion yield has been measured over a period of several years in low-Earth orbit.

This work was done by Bruce A. Banks of the Glenn Research Center.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steven Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-18639-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the August, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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