Measurements of material erosion in space by atomic oxygen using the on-orbit material degradation detector

R. Verker*, E. Keren, N. Refaeli, Y. Carmiel, A. Bolker, D. David, S. Katz, E. Sagi, D. Bashi, I. Finkelstein, T. Nahum, A. Haran, A. Shemesh Sadeh, M. Ariel, I. Gouzman, O. Amrani, Y. Simhony, M. Murat

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In recent years atomic oxygen (AO) has become a major challenge for the space community. AO is the most dominant species of the residual atmosphere in low Earth orbit (LEO). In addition, AO was found at the top of the Venusian and Martian atmospheres. As a result of exposure to AO, organic space-facing materials erode, leading to changes in their roughness, thermo-optical properties, and mass loss. In the past years, there has been a growing interest in very low Earth orbit missions, below an altitude of 350 km, where AO density and thus, AO flux, are extremely high. At these low altitudes, material degradation by AO erosion poses a great risk to the integrity of any space-facing material, unless well protected. As such, measuring the AO flux and the consequential material erosion by AO, in real-time while under actual space conditions, are of great interest to the space community. Thus, in this work we present real-time AO material erosion measurements that were conducted, for the first-time in LEO, using the on-orbit material degradation detector (ORMADD). The ORMADD is a low-cost and simple to operate detector, comprised of photovoltaic cells coated with semi-transparent AO sensitive coatings. Two ORMADDs were integrated on TAUSAT-1, a 3U CubeSat, deployed into LEO from the international space station. The first ORMADD was coated with a thin amorphous-carbon coating and the second was covered with a thick pyrolytic Kapton film. Using ORMADD, we were able to follow the erosion of the coatings in real-time conditions and calculate the AO flux in TAUSAT-1 orbit. The average in-orbit flux, derived from ORMADD data, was found to be comparable to the theoretical average AO flux calculated by the space environment information system (SPENVIS) software. This work demonstrates the abilities of ORMADD as a space environment detector, as well as a space material degradation research instrument.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)818-826
Number of pages9
JournalActa Astronautica
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • Atomic oxygen
  • CubeSat
  • Low Earth orbit
  • Material degradation
  • Space environment


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