Extent of thermal ablation suffered by model organic microparticles during aerogel capture at hypervelocities




Abstract— New model organic microparticles are used to assess the thermal ablation that occurs during aerogel capture at speeds from 1 to 6 km s−1. Commercial polystyrene particles (20 μm diameter) were coated with an ultrathin 20 nm overlayer of an organic conducting polymer, polypyrrole. This overlayer comprises only 0.8% by mass of the projectile but has a very strong Raman signature, hence its survival or destruction is a sensitive measure of the extent of chemical degradation suffered. After aerogel capture, microparticles were located via optical microscopy and their composition was analyzed in situ using Raman microscopy. The ultrathin polypyrrole overlayer survived essentially intact for impacts at ∼1 km s−1, but significant surface carbonization was found at 2 km s−1, and major particle mass loss at ≥3 km s−1. Particles impacting at ∼6.1 km s−1 (the speed at which cometary dust was collected in the NASA Stardust mission) were reduced to approximately half their original diameter during aerogel capture (i.e., a mass loss of 84%). Thus significant thermal ablation occurs at speeds above a few km s−1. This suggests that during the Stardust mission the thermal history of the terminal dust grains during capture in aerogel may be sufficient to cause significant processing or loss of organic materials. Further, while Raman D and G bands of carbon can be obtained from captured grains, they may well reflect the thermal processing during capture rather than the pre-impact particle's thermal history.