Low Earth Orbit Effects on Indium Tin Oxide and Polyester and Comparison With Laboratory Simulations

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Surface & Coatings Technology


Laboratory simulation of the low Earth orbit (LEO) environment using oxygen plasma ashers are discussed. Their effectiveness as space simulators are compared with LEO through analysis of indium tin oxide (ITO) thin films and bulk polyester exposed to both environments. Spectrophotometry and atomic force microscopy have been used to characterize optical and microstructural changes as a result of exposure to the simulated (oxygen plasma asher) and the actual space environment aboard shuttle flight STS-46. Results show that the low Earth orbit space environment is much harsher than the plasma asher on the optical properties of ITO as well as the surface roughness of polyester. On space-exposed samples, a significant shift in the ITO absorption edge is seen for fluences of 2 x 10^2^0 atoms cm^-^2 but not on films exposed in the asher. The surface roughness of polyester exposed in the asher increase by a factor of 5.5, while that of polyester exposed in space increases by a factor of 20 for the same atomic oxygen fluence. The directional nature and higher kinetic energy of atomic oxygen in LEO serves to erode polyester more than in the asher. The different results obtained in the asher for both ITO and polyester bring into question the suitability of using plasma ashers as space simulators for these materials.

Original Citation

Synowicki, R.A., et al. 1993. Low Earth orbit effects on indium tin oxide and polyester and comparison with laboratory simulations. Surface & Coatings Technology 62, no. 1-3:499-503.