Image of satellite XSS-11
A scale model of satellite XSS-11, which uses Kapton to manage the internal temperature of the satellite. Electron irradiation alters the optical and mechanical properties of the material, leading to non-ideal spacecraft thermal management. (Courtesy photo)

The Air Force Research Laboratory has investigated the effects of space weather damage to polyimides – materials used extensively in spacecraft construction due to their high heat resistance. The researchers determined the previously unknown chemical and physical effects of electron bombardment in Earth's magnetosphere on these polymers.

Electrons trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field are the most damaging components of weather in the geosynchronous Earth orbit. The stability of the polymer during and after radiation damage is a serious concern. While Kapton is extremely radiation-resistant, it suffers serious performance degradation when exposed to the space environment.