Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Harmon, Julie P.


crosslinking, scission, molecular weight, gamma, free volume


Modeling methods are required for predicting the chemical stability of macromolecular materials used in critical spacecraft components of satellites orbiting in the high-energy radiation environment of near earth and deep space planetary magnetic belts. Methods for establishing degradation mechanisms and predicting and simulating the total absorbed dose and ionization for long term space missions are presented herein. This investigation evaluates cross-linking, main-chain scission and elimination products in a linear series of narrowly dispersed poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) and polystyrene (PS) polymers. A comparison is made of the scission radiation yield (Gs) and crosslinking (Gx) predicted for the simulated ionization data to the results of degradation in a ground-based simulation of the space radiation environment using a 60Co source.

The influence of molecular weight on the stability of post-irradiated polymer is evident in the degree of change observed for each molecular weight series with respect to the degradation products produced by exposure to gamma radiation. The analysis of the specific polymer degradation products and changes in the average molecular weight (Mw) were performed using chemical analysis (FTIR and GPC) and thermal analysis (DSC). The analytical results for PMMA and polystyrene radiation-induced degradation products demonstrate that, depending on Mw, the amount and types of degradation products will vary with respect to crosslinking, chain scission and other oxidative pathways. The results support the preference for end group loss with free volume properties driving the observed differences in the G(s) and (Gx) values.

The cross-linking observed for polystyrene is controlled by molecular weight as well wherein the lowest molecular weight molecules display greater resistance to cross-linking. This research investigation employs proven tools of analysis (NASA AP8 and AE8) that accurately predict the amount of energy applied to spacecraft materials during a typical near-earth, aggressive mission environment . Another model (SPENVIS) is applied to determine the amount of total energy absorbed by the spacecraft materials from proton, electron and Brehmsstralung radiation throughout the mission life. Another set of models (SRIM and CASINO) are used to asses the range of penetration of particles into the materials and the extent of ionization caused by the particle spectrum and fluence. The absorption coefficients for the PS and PMMA structure are determined to ensure good correlation between ground simulation and the true space environment.

The total dose values are used to establish the total dose that is to be deposited during the ground simulation experiments. A 60Co irradiator was used as the ground simulation source. Dosimetry was used to determine the exposure time needed to deposit an equivalent amount of dose accumulation needed to simulate the total dose modeled for the space mission. Using gel permeation chromatography, previous studies have demonstrated that the characteristic Gaussian distribution of narrowly-dispersed PS and PMMA is perturbed by the accumulation of degradation products following irradiation. The change in distribution provides insight into the preferred path of degradation. The role of free volume in the glass transition temperature are reported with respect to Tg variation with molecular weight. Using differential scanning calorimetry.

The role of free volume in the determination of the mechanism of radiation-induced degradation is a primary focus of this investigation when considering the ability of the main chain to recombine or undergo abstraction as opposed to crosslinking or scission where motion is restricted in the solid state. The subtle distinction of structural changes brought about by the loss of side groups, double bond formation and crosslinking have been characterized by infrared spectroscopy. The resultant spectra of irradiated polymers offer considerable information on verifying the extent of competing reactions that involve structural features of the molecule. These instrumental methods are the tools of research that will assess the affect of molecular structure on polymer radiation resistance, and will support the rationale explaining the preference for one degradation mechanism over another.

This research investigation has yielded information on the affect of polymer molecular structure on radiation resistance. The work goes beyond previous studies that define empirical observations for a change in radiation resistance by virtue of a change in side group. The effect of free volume, stabilized intermediates and reactive intermediates are related to molecular weight and side group functionality. The understanding of the mechanistic rationale behind the effect of structural features on polymer radiation resistance are essential to the development of modeling systems for predicting polymer stability in space mission environments.