Low-earth-orbit exposure of carbon-based materials aboard shuttle flight STS-46

Blaine R. Spady, R. A. Synowicki, Jeffrey S. Hale, M. J. DeVries, John A. Woollam, Arthur W. Moore, Max Lake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


Six different types of carbon and carbon-boron nitride composites were exposed to low Earth orbit (LEO) aboard Space Shuttle flight STS-46. The samples received a nominal atomic-oxygen fluence of 2.2 × 1020 atoms/cm2 in 42 h of exposure. Pyrolytic graphite and highly oriented pyrolytic graphite showed significant degradation, and the measured erosion yield was within a factor of 2 of published values. The erosion yield of pyrolytic boron nitride was found to be 2.6 × 10-26 cm3/atom in plasma asher exposure, over 42 times lower than that of pyrolytic graphite. This low erosion yield makes graphite-boron nitride mixtures quite resistant to LEO exposure. Evidence suggests that the graphitic component was preferentially etched, leaving the surface boron nitride rich. Atomic-oxygen resistance increases with boron nitride composition. Carbon-fiber-carbon composites eroded in LEO, and the carbon pitch binder was found to etch more easily than the graphite fibers, which have much higher atomic-oxygen resistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1015-1017
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of Spacecraft and Rockets
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science

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    Spady, B. R., Synowicki, R. A., Hale, J. S., DeVries, M. J., Woollam, J. A., Moore, A. W., & Lake, M. (1995). Low-earth-orbit exposure of carbon-based materials aboard shuttle flight STS-46. Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, 32(6), 1015-1017. https://doi.org/10.2514/3.26723