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VNIIFTRI experts conducted an analysis of space dust on the outer surfaces of the ISS

12 July 2023

Moscow region, July 12, 2023 – Scientists of the Russian Metrological Institute of Technical Physics and Radio Engineering (VNIIFTRI) of Rosstandart took part in the space experiment "Test" the purpose of which was to establish the nature of the origin of the substance deposited on the outer surfaces of structural parts of the International Space Station. The work has been carried out since 2019 with the participation of Roscosmos Group of Companies, TSNIIMASH and PJSC RSC Energia named after S.P. Korolev, with the involvement of specialists from other enterprises in the field of microbiology and materials science. Based on the results of the experiment, conclusions were drawn about possible sources of contamination that can contribute to corrosion of the surface of the spacecraft, seal failure and failure of the station modules.

 "VNIIFTRI took part in joint research to find damage to the ISS surfaces. Experts drew attention to the fact that contaminated areas are formed in the areas of microdestruction, as well as on other surfaces of the ISS. Since the presence of such a deposit can affect the durability of structural elements, we have begun to study its composition and properties," says Vladimir Belyaev, Deputy Research Department of Acoustooptical Measurements and Laser Optoelectronics at the FSUE “VNIIFTRI”.

 Cotton fabric, fluorlone sponges after wiping the ISS portholes, test tubes with cotton fabric, as well as fluoroplastic hermetically sealed blocks, which were installed on the outer surface of the ISS, and then removed and delivered to Earth. The experimental and technical base of VNIIFTRI made it possible to conduct a whole range of high-precision studies: elemental analysis of samples, ionizing radiation spectrometry and microbiological research.

 "We assumed that the pollution was of a rather complex nature and expected to find traces of several sources in the samples under study: space and earth dust, man-made emissions from the ISS itself, station main body materials formed as a result of microdestruction. As a result of our experiments, we discovered all the chemical elements that are an integral part of stone and iron meteorites, as well as components that are not characteristic of the Earth and space, and are clearly of anthropogenic origin. Both "common" elements – iron, aluminum, silicon, phosphorus, and "rare" (scattered) elements – zinc, titanium and others were found. The detection of traces of rhenium was especially interesting – this is evidence of an exclusively terrestrial sediment source," tells Alexey Pryadka, an engineer at the Research Department of Acousto-Optical Measurements and Laser Optoelectronics.

 The obtained results allowed us to confirm the assumptions of scientists about the mixed source of origin of substances deposited on the outer surface of the ISS. Such processes can occur both during the launch and exit of the spacecraft into space, during the operation of the station as the results of its natural destruction and exhaust gas emissions, and as a result of the deposition of dust tails of comets and meteoroid particles. Moreover, the transfer of particles from the Earth's surface into space can occur as a result of volcanic eruptions, geomagnetic phenomena and electrical atmospheric phenomena.

 At the moment, research to identify the sources of contamination of the outer surface of the International Space Station is continuing.

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