Durable and impact-resistant thermoset polymers for the extreme environment of low Earth orbit

K. M. Chang, D. Das, L. Salvati, L. M. Dean, R. Keshari, M. Garg, D. D. Dlott, I. Chasiotis, N. R. Sottos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Polymers degrade rapidly in low-Earth orbit (LEO) due to extreme thermal cycling, solar radiation, micrometeoroid and orbital micro-debris impact, and the synergistic erosive effects of atomic oxygen (AO) with UV radiation. In this work, we investigate the synergistic effect of (AO+UV)-induced erosion and high-velocity impact damage on a tough thermoset, polydicyclopentadiene (pDCPD), via erosion yield measurements after a long-term LEO exposure in the ram orientation aboard the International Space Station (ISS) followed by ground-based hypervelocity impact tests. The incorporation of SiO2 nanoparticles reduces the AO-erosion rate by an order of magnitude, while also mitigating the associated degradation of surface mechanical properties. Moreover, the resistance of pDCPD to AO-erosion increases with crosslink density. Hypervelocity impact tests using sub-millimeter laser-driven flyer plates launched at 4.5 km s−1 reveal that pDCPD has higher impact resistance than epoxies with comparable erosion resistance. Interestingly, both epoxy and pDCPD exhibit a statistically insignificant change in impact resistance following surface AO-erosion during direct exposure to space vehicle ram conditions (7.8 km s−1) in LEO.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102089
JournalExtreme Mechanics Letters
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • Atomic oxygen erosion
  • Durability
  • High-velocity impact
  • Low-Earth Orbit
  • Polydicyclopentadiene
  • Polymer nanocomposites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Chemical Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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