Thermal Contributions to the Degradation of Ground-Laboratory- and Space-Irradiated Teflon Investigated


The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is covered with two primary types of thermal control materials, radiators and multilayer insulation blankets, which passively control temperatures during orbit. Both of these thermal control materials utilize back-surface metalized Teflon FEP (DuPont, fluorinated ethylene propylene) as the exterior (spacefacing) layer because of its excellent optical properties (low solar absorptance and high thermal emittance). The aluminized-FEP (Al-FEP) outermost layer of the multilayer insulation blankets on the HST has become embrittled while in space, resulting in severe on-orbit cracking (see the photographs). During the second servicing mission, an extremely embrittled piece of Al-FEP was retrieved that had curled, exposing the backsurface aluminum to space (see the photograph on the right). Because the aluminum surface has a lower thermal emittance than the FEP, this curled piece reached 200 C during orbit, 150 C higher than the nominal temperature extreme. To better understand the effect of temperature on the rate of degradation, and on the mechanism of degradation, of this insulation material in the low-Earth-orbit environment, researchers at the NASA Glenn Research Center conducted experiments to determine the effect of heating on the degradation of FEP that has been irradiated in a ground laboratory facility or in space on the HST. For this study, Teflon FEP retrieved from the HST during the third servicing mission after 9.7 years of space exposure was provided to Glenn by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

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