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Thread: does Junk rot in space?

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    does Junk rot in space?

    quick question:
    if metallic space junk is adrift in space, and its not going to be pulled back to earth via gravity, then would it ever rot?
    Im not talking about organic material but metallic parts.
    would it ever decay?
    if set adrift, 10,000 yrs later what would it look like in the vacuum of space?

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    Hi dashel, welcome to CQ.

    I think your question may be more complex that you thought. The space environment can be very challenging, but also very different than on Earth. And there isn't a single "space environment", for example, near Earth orbit is different than deep space.

    There has been a lot of work done on the durability of materials in space.
    NASA research program on the ISS
    1999 NASA report

    I think you are exactly correct that organic materials will behave differently than metals; and I suspect that not all metals will behave the same. I suspect there will be damage to the metal parts, but I don't know enough to say what it will look like in 10,000 years.
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    I suspect the biggest factor may be radiation. Including light. Although vacuum will also be influential on some plastics, which may outgas and have their material properties altered.
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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    I recall early flights of the Space Shuttle, in Low Earth Orbit, experienced considerable oxidation of their paint jobs, not just to the intense ultraviolet, but from atomic oxygen. Evidently an active solar cycle would have a big CME, coronal mass ejection, and the impact on the upper atmosphere would kick some atoms into LEO, oxidizing the paint, something that had not showed up in vacuum chamber testing.
    Over eons, exposure to gamma ray bursts (GRB's) can actually slowly disintegrate the nuclei of any atom, since the binding energy of protons and neutrons is typically between 6-16 Mev, and the energy in GRB's far exceeds that. It's a product of total actinic photon flux (the ones with enough energy to photodissociate nuclei) per burst, total number of bursts over the eons, and the interaction cross-section in barns.

    pete

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    Ten thousand years seems easy. You might look around for estimates of how long our spacecraft will last, in form, on Mars and, better, the Moon.


    On the Moon, Flags & Footprints of Apollo Astronauts Won't Last Forever


    From past studies of moon rocks collected by astronauts during the Apollo missions, researchers have learned that the rocks erode at a rate of about 0.04 inches every 1 million years.

    "In human terms, it may seem like forever, but in geologic terms, probably there will be no traces of the Apollo exploration in, let's say, ten to a hundred million years," Robinson said.
    0 1 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 ...
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    Quote Originally Posted by 01101001 View Post
    Ten thousand years seems easy. You might look around for estimates of how long our spacecraft will last, in form, on Mars and, better, the Moon.


    On the Moon, Flags & Footprints of Apollo Astronauts Won't Last Forever


    thank u all for your responses.
    i am writing a story.
    in this story, there is metallic debris orbiting a distance from the earth. over 100,000 yrs later this metallic debris( old shuttle) is revisited. i was wondering if it would have decayed to some degree by then. or what it would look like.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dashel View Post
    quick question:
    if metallic space junk is adrift in space, and its not going to be pulled back to earth via gravity, then would it ever rot?
    Im not talking about organic material but metallic parts.
    would it ever decay?
    if set adrift, 10,000 yrs later what would it look like in the vacuum of space?
    Normally on the earth environment, when you say "rot" you probably mean "oxidize" or "rust." The earth has an atmosphere that is high in oxygen, and so metals will typically combine with oxygen to form a layer of oxidized metal which we perceive as "rot." In space that doesn't happen very much, but on the other hand you things like micrometeorites and cosmic rays that will damage the metal in other ways.
    As above, so below

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    Unless at high enough altitudes, the orbit will rot eventually.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dashel View Post
    thank u all for your responses.
    i am writing a story.
    in this story, there is metallic debris orbiting a distance from the earth. over 100,000 yrs later this metallic debris( old shuttle) is revisited. i was wondering if it would have decayed to some degree by then. or what it would look like.
    If you look at papers like this, in Earth orbit there is damage from atomic oxygen. That close to the Earth, the pressure is very low, but it isn't zero, and there is a tiny bit of atmosphere. There would be some damage. I don't think there is a lot, but 100,000 years is a long time. There would have to be some damage, though I'm not sure how much.
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    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J002E3

    This is an excellent question. Strongly urge a look at the above Wikipedia article as a jump-off point for research. I recall but cannot now find documents on the deterioration expected in objects in heliocentric orbit, exposed to solar radiation. Paint peeling and "browning" were expected, possible explosions if fuel left in tanks. Some second and third stages left in Earth orbit have exploded. Would also investigate materials on Vanguard 1 in long-duration orbit of Earth.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanguard_1


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    Last edited by Roger E. Moore; 2017-Jan-08 at 02:46 PM.

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    Materials will react differently, obviously, but I can think of a couple of mechanisms

    UV and other forms of ionizing radiation tend to break up organic molecules. This effect on the surface of Earth that data for plastics will include cautions about protection against UV. Of course, UV radiation will also denature and otherwise degrade natural organic molecules.

    Atomic oxygen will break up molecules; it will also degrade metal.

    High-speed particles will physically damage materials. This sort of damage can be seen in minerals on Earth, and is used as a dating method. These will also break up molecules, especially organics.

    Radiation may cause metal to degrade by sputtering.

    Direct mechanical degradation by dust and larger particles


    I think one of the surprises from the long-term study of material samples in the near-Earth orbit environment was just how damaging it was.
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    You might want to search for the term "space weathering".

    https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/c...0040112017.pdf

    http://link.springer.com/chapter/10....48-7_11#page-1

    https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/s...riments/1.html

    https://books.google.com/books?id=y9...0paint&f=false

    https://books.google.com/books?id=rk...0paint&f=false

    http://www.aztechnology.com/material...ngs-az-93.html

    http://link.springer.com/chapter/10....48-7_11#page-1


    Personally, I would call the destructive effects of space weathering on artificial materials to be a sort of "space rot", but that's just my thing.

    Really good question, very important one for not only spacecraft design but also for model building, fiction writing, etc.

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    I think one of the key issues in this topic is whether we are talking about long-duration spacecraft in low Earth orbit (subject to atmospheric oxygen, etc.) or in larger orbits, such as heliocentric. Wonder if temperature would also matter a lot, such as spacecraft in near-solar orbit vs. Voyager I & II in interstellar space.

    NOTE:

    I still recall from somewhere that white spacecraft paint would tend to turn brown or tan in space, but references show that the S-IVB stage in heliocentric orbit was still covered in white titanium oxide paint.
    Last edited by Roger E. Moore; 2017-Jan-08 at 03:17 PM.

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    Deterioration of spacecraft parts might produce explosions.

    http://spacenews.com/20-year-old-mil...oded-in-orbit/

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    Completely forgot about micrometeor damage.

    http://www.swri.org/4org/d18/engdyn/spacimp/

    Where is that painting of one of the Pioneer or Voyager spacecraft millions of years from now, lost in galactic space? That was awesome. It had micrometeor damage.

    Can't believe I'm so into this. I was once thinking about making a scale large model of what an S-IVB would look like in solar orbit, and I researched it a lot. Hence, all the references here. I was going to do it in 1/48 scale, something like that. I have scale plans for the S-IVB that would have made it easier.

    Speaking of meteor damage, I recall this was anticipated back in the 1950s. Attached are images from the 1957 SF movie "20 Million Miles to Earth", which was an extraordinary "monster movie" that had unusual realism. The blast hole in the side of the spacecraft was further weathered by atmospheric reentry after the hit. Just a fun note.

    NOTE: While the movie is probably under copyright, the movie is commonly available for free online as it is so old, so no infringement should occur or was intended.

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xlr...rth_shortfilms
    .
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Roger E. Moore; 2017-Jan-08 at 04:12 PM.

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    Famed space artist Ron Miller's artwork of Voyager 1 or 2, entering an alien solar system. See the damage to the spacecraft.

    http://spaceart.photoshelter.com/gal...000tNDaWl3DLNQ

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    Unalloyed titanium sublimes in a vacuum.

    Nobody ever remembers that for some reason.
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    You want to be careful taking your General Products hull to close to an antimatter planet.
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    You want to be careful taking your General Products hull to close to an antimatter planet.
    Or gravitational extremes.
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    (John, not the other one.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by BigDon View Post
    Unalloyed titanium sublimes in a vacuum.

    Nobody ever remembers that for some reason.
    It prompts my memory, I used to work with electron beam welding. There is a high vacuum pump called a getter pump, it only works in pretty high vacuum where you measure it in mean free path distances. If I recall you heat titanium which sputters or sublimes off and being highly chemically reactive, grasps a gas molecule and thus "gets " it, electrostatic forces deposit the titanium again on cold surfaces.
    Most tiranium in space would have the normal oxide coat from its earth life unless rubbed off deliberately or by mysterious abrasion in its space life. It diffusion bonds to itself very well if abraded in a vacuum. No idea if the sublimation rate would be very rapid in the cold of space.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigDon View Post
    Or gravitational extremes.
    Oh, those won't hurt the hull....

    First Niven story I ever read.
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    I've also heard it said that fine wires seem to grow like beard stubble from electronics.

    I wonder--would spraying a solar sail aid in its deployment and its ability to survive photodegredation--or would a spray gum up a solar sail and keep it from unfurling?
    Last edited by publiusr; 2017-Jan-13 at 09:10 PM.

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    Lots of very good answers here. But there's another perspective. from the 'longer term': Baryon decay.... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proton_decay

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