Materials International Space Station Experiment - 1 and 2 (MISSE-1 and 2) - 01.09.14

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone

MISSE-1 and 2 are a test bed for materials and coatings attached to the outside of the ISS is being evaluated for the effects of atomic oxygen, direct sunlight, and extremes of heat and cold. This experiment allows the development and testing of new materials to better withstand the rigors of space environments. Results will provide a better understanding of the durability of various materials when they are exposed to the space environment. Many of the materials may have applications in the design of future spacecraft.

Science Results for Everyone

Atomic oxygen, direct sunlight, micrometeorites, extremes of heat and cold: space is no place for wimpy materials. This investigation exposed more than 400 materials to space to see which ones could take what space dishes out. Researchers observed particulate contamination and optical property changes in some materials, more than 100 micrometeoroid and space debris strikes, and complete erosion of polymer film samples by atomic oxygen. But some samples performed well and will undergo further analysis. Many of the experiments validated ground results, such as ability of certain materials to withstand atomic oxygen erosion, and this data can be immediately applied to spacecraft designs.

This content was provided by William H. Kinard, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.

Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)

  • William H. Kinard, Ph.D., Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, United States
  • Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
    Information Pending


    Boeing, Phantom Works, Renton, WA, United States
    Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, United States
    Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, United States

    Sponsoring Space Agency
    National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

    Sponsoring Organization
    Technology Demonstration Office (TDO)

    Research Benefits
    Information Pending

    ISS Expedition Duration:
    August 2001 - October 2005

    Expeditions Assigned

    Previous ISS Missions

    NASA has conducted a series of space experiments to determine the best materials to survive in the space environment. During mission STS-76, the shuttle crew attached the Mir Environmental Effects Payload (MEEP) on Mir. One and a half years later the crew of the STS-86 mission retrieved the MEEP and brought it back to earth for analysis. Shuttle flight STS-85 featured the Evaluation of Space Environment and Effects on Materials study which tested thin polymer films that contained phenylphosphine oxide which, when exposed to space conditions, formed a phosphate barrier that protected the films from further attacks of atomic oxygen. The Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) was another materials test in the space environment. It orbited in space for five and a half years before being returned to Earth for analysis of the materials that were tested.

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    Experiment Description

    Research Overview

    • MISSE-1 and 2 is the first of three investigations that will assess impacts of the space environment (vacuum, solar radiation, atomic oxygen and micrometeorites) on materials.

    • MISSE Passive Experiment Containers (PEC) 1 and 2 contain over 400 candidate spacecraft materials (optics, sensors, electronics, coatings and structural materials) that have been exposed to the hostile environment of space from August 2001 - August 2005.

    • Following return to Earth these materials will be analyzed to determine which materials could withstand the harsh environment of space and can be used in the design of future spacecraft.

    Researchers from the private and public sector prepared a wide range of samples for the first externally mounted experiment on ISS. MISSE-1 and -2 were testbeds for more than 400 materials and coatings samples, testing their survivability under the corrosive effects of the space environment; including micrometeoroid and orbital debris strikes, atomic oxygen attack, intense ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and extreme temperature swings. Results will provide a better understanding of the durability of various materials in this environment. Many of the materials may have applications in the design of future spacecraft.

    Both MISSE-1 and -2 were deployed in August 2001 on Expedition 3 and were planned for a one-year exposure. Due to the delays incurred following the Columbia accident, they were not retrieved until four years later during ISS Expedition 11 in August 2005. Follow-on samples testing new materials, new technologies and with increasingly complex missions were part of subsequent MISSE experiments mounted on the station (MISSE-5, MISSE-3, MISSE-4, and MISSE-6).

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    Space Applications
    Results will provide a better understanding of the durability of various materials when they are exposed to the space environment. Many of the materials may have applications in the design of future spacecraft.

    Earth Applications
    The new advanced materials and components that will be demonstrated in MISSE will improve the performance, increase the useful life, and reduce the costs of future space operations of commercial weather, communication and Earth observation satellites that we all now depend on.

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    Operational Requirements
    MISSE is mounted to the Station's exterior on the airlock. It is a passive experiment requiring no power or crew interaction. The critical interaction is between the samples and the space environment.

    Operational Protocols
    During extravehicular activity (EVA) on August 16, 2001, astronauts installed the MISSE PEC 1 and 2 on the Quest airlock of ISS. During subsequent EVAs, crewmembers captured snapshots of the MISSE PECs, if time permitted. In August 2005, during an EVA, Increment 11 crewmembers retrieved the MISSE PECs. The samples were returned to the investigators, who will carefully examine each to determine how the materials fared.

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    Results/More Information

    In late 2005, 35 investigators taking part in MISSE-1 and -2 traveled to NASA Langley Research Center to inspect their samples and prepare them for return to their respective laboratories for further analysis. Researchers taking part in this investigation have interests in polymers, thermal control coatings, nano-composites, radiation shielding, environmental monitors, and marking processes designed to label parts that will be exposed to the space environment. The primary data from MISSE will be obtained by comparing the preflight laboratory characterization of the test specimens with postflight laboratory characterizations made after the specimens are retrieved.

    Some particulate contamination was observed. Optical property changes in thermal control materials were also observed. Several materials did well in the harsh environment. Lack of widespread molecular contamination on MISSE gives confidence in using station for future material studies. A number of results are anticipated to be released over the next few years. While the samples are still under investigation, researchers indicate that over 100 micrometeoroid and space debris strikes were found. Many polymer film samples were completely eroded by atomic oxygen, but some samples survived and are undergoing analysis.

    Many of the experiments provide space-validated results for ground-based experiments, such as the durability of materials to withstand atomic Oxygen erosion (AO) (deGroh et al. 2008). Because AO erosion is the primary weathering force to spacecraft materials, and true space environmental conditions are difficult to replicate on Earth, MISSE provides a valuable test platform that enables methods for correlating and extrapolating ground results. Snyder et al. (2006) discuss results from MISSE-2 testing of AO erosion of SiOx coated Kapton compared to uncoated Kapton (the atomic Oxygen erosion profile of Kapton is well documented). They calculated mass loss. De Groh et al. (2006) analyzed 41 different polymers called PEACE (Polymer Erosion and Contamination Experiment) Polymers, with the objective to determine the atomic oxygen erosion yield for a variety of materials such as Kevlar, polyethelene, Lucite, Kapton and Teflon that are used in spacecraft and exposed to the space environment. The erosion yield data are immediately applicable to spacecraft designs. Even though the length of exposure was four times longer than planned, the sample preparation method of stacking many thin layers allowed for meaningful data even after four years: not all of the material had eroded away. Samples masses were weighed after flight and compared with preflight masses to calculated erosion yields.

    Other investigators studied specific polymers with various compositional additives or coatings to test resistance to atomic oxygen erosion (e.g. Tomczak et al. 2007, Juhl et al. 2007). One approach (Tomczak et al. 2007) is to embed polymers with nano-sized SiO2. With Atomic Oxygen exposure, a silica pasivation layer is formed.

    In addition to testing various materials, experiments were also set up to measure the geometry of atomic oxygen scattering from oxidized Aluminum surfaces.

    MISSE-1 and -2 materials, and insights into atomic oxygen erosion have resulted in several patents and spin-offs ranging from cleaning artwork, etching parts to be used in human grafts, developing new methodologies for testing blood sugar, and more. Because MISSE assembles partners across industry and DoD, in addition to NASA scientists and academic partners, many of the results are proprietary. (Evans et al. 2009)

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    Results Publications

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    Ground Based Results Publications

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    ISS Patents

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    Related Publications

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    Related Websites

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    image NASA Image: ISS003E5863 - Close up of the experiment trays in MISSE, open and exposed to space.
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    image NASA Image: ISS006E46361 - Oblique view of MISSE attached to the ISS airlock.
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    image ISS004E8043 - Location of one of the MISSE PECs on the ISS.
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    image NASA Image: ISS009E22432 - Close up of MISSE with Earth backdrop.
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    image NASA Image: ISS009E22435 - MISSE on the ISS, over cloud tops.
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    image NASA Image: ISS005E17107 - Oblique view of MISSE with Earth and space background.
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    image NASA Image: STS105-346-007 - Astronaut Patrick G. Forrester, during the second STS-105 extravehicular activity, prepares to work with the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE). The experiment was installed on the outside of the Quest Airlock during the first extravehicular activity (EVA) of the STS-105 mission. MISSE will collect information on how different materials weather in the environment of space.
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