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So, here's the setup. Spaceship emergency lands on a habitable planet in the middle of a desert. Being a desert with decent wind movement, the ship quickly ends up being buried under the sand.

A few centuries later, someone finds the ship. What condition would it be in? Let's assume that the ship won't be harmed by the sand itself - But time isn't always the best of buddies to things.

Would being buried under the sand protect and preserve this ship, or would it cause more problems?

EDIT: To clarify a few things:

  1. Let's assume that the external skin of the ship, being designed for protection against incredible speed micro-meteors, is impervious to sand for the "Short Duration" that it is exposed. This might be a few hours for a sandstorm, or a few days/weeks for more simple things
  2. I don't expect the ship itself to be functioning. In an emergency landing situation, things probably aren't functioning perfectly in the first place.
  3. The original question was more aimed at the sand portion - Does burying something in sand - in this case, a space ship - help with preservation, or does it hinder? I know some of the reasons we have such well-preserved mummies is the climate, but the Pharaoh is organic, and also stored in a specially prepared place. Would the interior of the spacecraft take on the aspects of such a place?
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know how this spaceship works, but here is a related post about what would happen to a 747 over time. I've noticed you've posted a lot here recently, welcome to Worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Mar 10 '17 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ Oooh, a good read! Thanks! Also, I found here and my immediate reaction was "THIS IS AMAZING!" - You'll probably see a bit of me around. I love it here already. $\endgroup$ – Andon Mar 10 '17 at 2:35
  • $\begingroup$ This spaceship would be airtight and designed to protect against high speed projectiles. The most the sand would do is sand blast your paint job, and maybe clog up your engines. $\endgroup$ – CaptClockobob Mar 10 '17 at 12:39
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Depending on how deep it is buried, there will be some pressure. Spaceships normally aren't build for much pressure from the outside. So it might get somewhat compressed, perhaps even get a hole or two where the sand pours in.

Apart from that, the sand will protect the ship from nearly every outside influence, leaving it to time and a very dry atmosphere. What that does to your ship strongly depends on the materials used. E.g. plastic and rubber will get porous and crumble, while metal parts will be nearly unaffected. So you'll have to go through all the parts, your ship is build from, and look up, how they age in a dry atmosphere.
Of course you can also just make up futuristic materials (like plastimetal or paperwire) and define yourself how they react.

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The desert climate has various effects on artifacts:

  • dry air preserves materials from water induced oxydation/degradation (positive effect)
  • sand grains blown by the wind have an erosive effect (negative effect)

On top of this you have to consider the type of technology you are burying under sand.

A second world war airplane crashed in the desert will likely undergo some heavy polishing because of sand grinding, but its motors and wings will likely preserve some kind of functionality (I remember seeing a documentary on how fascist time trains and railways, abandoned by the italian at the end of WWII, were brought back to function in the '90s).

A modern day device, stuffed with electronics, will probably become unrecoverable scrap much faster: electronic circuits do not age well (interdiffusion between the layers in the IC simply wipes out the IC itself, memories can be deleted by cosmic rays and environmental radiation) .

Therefore emerging from the sands after centuries your spaceship will more likely retain its shape and hardware with minor damages, but its functionality, if it was relying on electronics, would be gone forever.

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    $\begingroup$ Surely burying something in sand protects it from radiation..? $\endgroup$ – Innovine Mar 10 '17 at 7:24
  • $\begingroup$ That might be. What about tribologically induced electrostatic discharge? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Mar 10 '17 at 7:35
  • $\begingroup$ spaceships are built to resist cosmic rays longer, because in space there is no atmosphere (obviously) that could block the cosmic rays. But it still totally depends on the used materials. Think of Star Trek-Style biological components - they will work never again. But if you need just the information about the ships tech for your story, a non-functioning ship still can suffice. $\endgroup$ – Julian Egner Mar 10 '17 at 9:12
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Here is a WWII fighther plane that crashed in the Sahara. It's pretty well preserved, which bodes well for your spaceship. The cockpit was not filled with sand, so it appears that this Kittyhawk P-40 has not been covered completely by the sand only to be uncovered later, but has faced 70 years of sand erosion in the open air..

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it depends entirely on how quickly it is buried, if buried in a single event it will help preserve it, if it takes a long time all that time exposed to the blowing sand will do a lot of harm.

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