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National Council of Undergraduate Research

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A vacuum chamber was designed and built that simulates the space environment making possible the testing of material modification due to exposure of solar radiation. Critical environmental components required include an ultra high vacuum (10-9 Torr), a UV/VIS/NIR solar spectrum source, an electron gun and charge plasma, temperature extremes, and long exposure duration. To simulate the solar spectrum, a solar simulator was attached to the chamber with a range of 200nm to 2000nm. The exposure time can be accelerated by scaling the solar intensity up to four suns. A Krypton lamp imitates the 120 nm ultraviolet hydrogen Lymann alpha emission not produced by the solar simulator. A temperature range from 100K to 450K is achieved using an attached cryogenic reservoir and resistance heaters. An electron flood gun (mono-energetic, 20 eV to 15keV) is calibrated to replicate solar wind at desired distances from the sun. The chamber maintains 98% uniformity of the electron and electromagnetic radiation exposure relative to the center. The chamber allows for a cost-effective investigation of multiple small-scale samples. An automated data acquisition system monitors and records the reflectivity, absorptivity, and emissivity of the samples throughout the test. An integrating sphere and an IR absorptivity/emissivity probe are used to collect this data. The system allows for measurements to be taken while the samples are still under vacuum and exposed to radiation. With these accurate simulations we can closely predict the material’s behavior in near proximity to the sun. This information is vital in determining materials for satellites, probes, and any other spacecraft .

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