Fiber optic cables for space environments

Nowadays fiber optic cables find their application in space flights, especially performed by NASA. Nevertheless, not all types of fiber cables are suitable for this mission and require to be tested in space environments. Companies-manufacturers of fiber optic solutions plan to create a type of fiber optic cable that can be used in various difficult environments acceptable to space flight missions.

To be more precise, tests of fiber cables allow for determining failure mechanisms that can happen during a mission. These tests include such processes as vacuum exposure, thermal cycling, and radiation exposure. For instance, several fiber optic cables have been tested over the past years and demonstrated good thermal stability both during and after thermal cycling.

According to the test results, it is possible to elevate the preconditioning measures required for available fiber optic systems to remain thermally stable in space. Therefore, several optical fibers demonstrate radiation effects at -125°C during the simulation of the use at a conventional space station. Specialists have tested a fiber optic cable made of acrylate optical fiber for outgassing to learn whether it can be applied in a space flight.

It should be noted that all materials for fiber optic systems are estimated for outgassing characteristics in a vacuum environment. In the case of passing the test, the material of fiber cables is regarded as appropriate for usage in a vacuum environment. Additionally, it is possible to use a material that outgases in a vacuum environment, “if the outgassing occurs in an area of the unmanned portion of a spacecraft such that these materials could not degrade the performance of any fiber optic systems.”

The thing is that acrylate coatings of optical fibers are generally prohibited in the space environment. Nevertheless, the specialists have tested this type of coating and the results demonstrate this configuration of fiber optic cables is acceptable for space missions. As for the thermal stability of fiber cables, there are two ways: to test the optical stability or to test the total amount of cable component shrinkage.

These tests of fiber optic systems allow specialists to estimate if an optical fiber can be used in space flight. Space fiber optic cables have to maintain a thermal environment of -55°C to +125°C. Moreover, fiber cables are subjected to total ionizing dose radiation testing to determine which cable is perfect for space application. Low temperature leads to radiation-induced attenuation for fiber optic cable configurations including conventional germanium doped 100/140-micron optical fiber.

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