Analyses of Contaminated Solar Array Handrail Samples Retrieved from Mir 1999-01-2694
In January 1998 during the STS-89 mission, an eight section Russian solar array panel was retrieved after more than ten years exposure to the orbital space environment on the Russian space station Mir. Two darkened handrail samples from the Russian solar array have been evaluated for contamination; a section of a white paint covered rigid handrail and a section of woven fabric overwrapped around a flexible handhold. The handrail samples were evaluated using optical microscopy (OM), field emission scanning electron microscopy (FESEM) and energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS). Optical properties were also obtained. Microscopy has shown the discolored areas to have thick layers of contaminant that has crazed and spalled off in regions. Energy dispersive spectroscopy revealed that the brown contaminant is composed of oxidized silicon. No silicon was present on the unexposed fabric over-wrap, and very small amounts were present in the white paint. Therefore, the contaminant layer on both samples is attributed to silicone contamination from other spacecraft materials that have been oxidized by atomic oxygen while in orbit. A significant source of the silicone contamination appears to be from the solar array itself.