LDEF Fiber-Composite Materials Characterization

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Degradation of a number of fiber/polymer composites located on the leading and trailing surfaces of LDEF where the atomic oxygen (AO) fluences ranged from 10(exp 22) to 10(exp 4) atoms/cm(sup 2), respectively, was observed and compared. While matrices of the composites on the leading edge generally exhibited considerable degradation and erosion-induced fragmentation, this 'asking' process was confined to the near surface regions because these degraded structures acted as a 'protective blanket' for deeper-lying regions. This finding leads to the conclusion that simple surface coatings can significantly retard AO and other combinations of degrading phenomena in low-Earth orbit. Micrometeoroid and debris particle impacts were not a prominent feature on the fiber composites studied and apparently do not contribute in a significant way to their degradation or alteration in low-Earth orbit.