Southampton University research students have developed a flight instrument that is expected to launch into orbit today aboard the space shuttle Atlantis.
The Southampton Transient Oxygen and Radiation Monitor (STORM) instrument is destined for the International Space Station where it will be used in an experiment called MEDET (Materials Exposure and Degradation Experiment on EuTEF). The experiment aims to measure how the hostile space environment affects materials used to construct spacecraft.
These materials, particularly polymers which are often used to make insulation blankets on spacecraft, suffer damage from the combined effects of solar radiation, micro-meteroid and space debris impact, and from exposure to atomic oxygen, which is the primary constituent of the Earth’s residual atmosphere in low Earth orbit. STORM will monitor the concentration of atomic oxygen (AO) and the flux of solar X-ray and ultraviolet radiation.
Once operational, STORM will send back data at regular intervals so that the changes in the AO and X-ray/UV levels can be monitored over time. After two or three years of exposure to the space environment, the experiment will be returned to Earth for analysis and interpretation by the Southampton researchers, who will determine the effect of the exposure on the materials and instruments contained on board.
The MEDET experiment is part of an international project between Southampton’s Schools of Engineering Sciences and Electronics and Computer Science, the European Space Agency (ESA), the French Space Agency (CNES), and the French Aerospace Laboratory (ONERA).