STUDY OF MICROMETEOROID AND ORBITAL DEBRIS EFFECTS ON
THE SOLAR PANELS RETRIEVED FROM
THE SPACE STATION “MIR”
, A.S. SEMENOV
, V.G. SOKOLOV
, V.P. KONOSHENKO
and I.I. KOVALYOV
State Research Institute of Aviation Systems (St. RIAS), Moscow, Russia;
Rocket & Space Corporation ‘Energia’, Korolev, Moscow Reg., Russia
(Received 11 July 2000; Accepted 11 September 2001)
Abstract. A study of micrometeoroid and orbital debris (MMOD) long-term effects on solar cell samples of
solar panels returned from the space station “MIR” has been carried out. Five samples from the solar array,
which spent over 10 years in space, have been studied with the help of optical microscopes with magniﬁcation
up to 1000. Craters with dimensions as small as 1
m were registered. Additional large impact features were
investigated by observing a large number of cells (∼150) with an optical microscope of small magniﬁcation.
The aim of the study was to deﬁne morphological and statistical characteristics of samples surface damages
as well as the extent of surface erosion caused by MMOD impacts. The results of statistical analysis of
the data obtained in this study are shown to correlate with the experimental data obtained in the Hubble
Telescope solar panel return experiment, and MMOD ﬂux estimations are in good agreement with modern
MMOD models. The relative surface area damaged by impacts of small size (1–100
m) MMOD particles
is estimated to be ∼0.01%, while the relative surface area of large impact features (greater than 0.1 mm) is
estimated to be ∼0.045%.
Keywords: impact surface damages, micrometeoroid and orbital debris ﬂux, optical microscope, solar cell
samples, surface erosion
External construction elements of the Russian space station “MIR”, particularly its solar
panels, are unique objects from the point of view of studying the MMOD problem, because
of the large value of their surface area–time product. The solar array segment, consisting of
eight foldable panels with an overall dimension of 6 m length and 1.3 m width, was removed
in November 1997 from the non-articulating PV array on the MIR core module and returned
to Earth by the Shuttle orbiter during the STS-89 mission in January 1998.
During visual examination of the front and rear surfaces of seven solar panels with a
hand-held magnifying glass at the Kennedy Space Center, the location and size of ∼1500
impact features were observed and recorded by a joint team of US and Russian investiga-
tors. Digital photographs of medium and large impact features were taken with a microscope
(Visentine et al., 1999). After that, one panel of the segment was given to the US scientists
and the remaining seven panels were returned to RSC “Energia” for further investigations.
Author for correspondence (29-26 Dzjerdzinski Str., Pushkino City, Moscow Region, 141200, Russia; Tel.:
7-095-513-8230; Fax: 7-095-513-6138; E-mail: vg
Space Debris 2, 1–7, 2002.
© 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.