Researchers develop coating to protect satellites against oxygen damage in orbit

Nina Massey, PA Science Correspondent

A coating that can protect satellites against oxygen damage in orbit has been developed by researchers.

The barrier is able to shield satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO) from ultraviolet radiation and atomic oxygen, experts say.

Atomic oxygen (O) is created when oxygen molecules break apart, a process made easier in space because of the abundance of ultraviolet radiation.

Atomic oxygen then reacts with organic surfaces on spacecraft and degrades them.

Engineers from Airbus and the University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute have developed a barrier against these particles.

The barrier bonds to the surface of a polymer or composite materials and protects them from the erosion caused by atomic oxygen.

The barrier can be coated on large-areas of complex 3D structures like spacecraft and optical mirrors.

Experts say this eliminates the risk of contamination and the need to wrap instruments with multi-layer insulation, opening up opportunities to increase satellite performance.

Christopher Hess, head of microwave instruments at Airbus Space Systems, said: “This breakthrough technology is an enabler for extremely agile, high performance space borne radar missions.

“It should have a huge positive impact on overall mission performance by offering higher flexibility in the acquisition as well as increasing the possible imaged area – giving our instruments greater performance.”

The teams from Airbus and Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute are now working towards applying the coating on satellites from 2022.

The paper is published in the scientific journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

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