Dunmore materials insulate in space

  • 06-Jan-2012 11:25 EST
mli swatch 1.jpg

Layers of Dunmore multilayer insulation materials—which typically include polyimide, polyester, and FEP films specially coated with vapor-deposited aluminum or other exotic metals such as gold or germanium—protect the Juno probe from extreme temperatures and radiation on its five-year journey to Jupiter.

Insulating films and tapes supplied by Dunmore Corp. are providing protection from thermal damage and magnetic interference for the electronic systems on board NASA’s Juno probe, which was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Aug. 5.

Layers of Dunmore multilayer insulation (MLI) materials—which typically include polyimide, polyester, and FEP (fluorinated ethylene propylene) films specially coated with vapor-deposited aluminum or other exotic metals such as gold or germanium to provide a specific set of optical and thermal properties—protect the probe from extreme hot and cold temperatures as well as radiation on its five-year journey to Jupiter to perform detailed mapping of that planet’s magnetic field.

Typical temperatures that could be encountered range from -125 to +150°C.

The films comprise the external insulation blankets that shield Juno’s electronic systems. Dunmore also provided the adhesive tape that insulates the probe’s internal wiring. The 2300 ft of pure gold-coated insulation tape neutralizes the magnetic field from Juno’s electrical wiring and prevents it from interfering with instruments that will map Jupiter’s magnetic field in high definition. Juno is also carrying three large solar array panels that required insulated wiring.

Twin magnetometers mounted on a 13-ft boom wrapped in Dunmore MLI material will render the magnetic field in high-resolution images.

Dunmore started working on these materials in January 2009 and worked with Lockheed Martin through the integration and testing phases throughout early 2011.

“Lockheed Martin, Juno’s prime contractor, came to us with very specific needs for insulating materials that we were able to advise them on,” John Jordon, Dunmore Vice President, said in a company release. “We’ve been providing materials to space programs from the shuttle to the International Space Station for years, so we had a good understanding of their weight restrictions and performance requirements. We helped develop the specifications for the final materials, like adhesives that can endure wide temperature swings.”

The cargo bays on the now-retired Space Shuttle Atlantis, as well as on the retired Endeavor and Discovery, were lined with insulation blankets covered by Dunmore thermal protection systems. The outer layer of the MLI blanket was made up of a tightly woven fabric coated with a fine layer of aluminum that protects against tearing or puncturing by micro-debris.

“Weight is everything on a space launch. We can provide materials consisting of 10 layers of film that weigh almost nothing yet has the same protective properties as aluminum. One pound of payload is a lot of money in a space launch, so anything that cuts weight is significant,” said Jordon.

In addition to the Juno and the shuttle program, Dunmore has supplied protective materials to the current generation of GPS satellites and will be supplying to the next-generation GPS III program. Its materials can also be found on the Hubble Space Telescope and most recently launched NASA/JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) Aquarius spacecraft.

A spokesperson noted that with the advent of the next generation of supply and crew vehicles being developed by the commercial market through NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) and Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) contracts, the company’s MLI materials “will soon find a new home in space to replace the ones once supplied to the shuttle program.”

“The shuttle program taught us a lot about the market for space products,” Jordon said. “Given this knowledge and steady advances in material science, we’re looking forward to a bigger presence in the market for space products.”

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