NASA Selects Commercial Invention of the Year
It won't be long before such
diverse products as lipstick, art and circuit boards could benefit
from a thermoplastic developed for use in space. NASA thinks so
much of the thermoplastic's commercial potential that it named the
high-tech material its 1999 Commercial Invention of the Year. A
research team from NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA,
developed the winning invention.
The material offers protection
from ultraviolet radiation as a coating for art and outdoor
statues. It promises UV protection as an additive to cosmetics and
exterior paints. It offers temperature-resistance when used in the
form of solid components in electronic devices like liquid crystal
displays and in flexible, printed circuit boards.
Inventors Anne St. Clair, Terry
St. Clair and Bill Winfree have been awarded four U.S. patents on
the material, which they call Colorless and Low Dielectric
Polyimide Thin Film Technology. R&D Magazine also selected the
invention as one of the top 100 R&D products for 1999. The
technology has been licensed to SRS Technologies, Huntsville, AL,
and Triton Systems Inc., Chelmsford, MA.
Originally developed for solar
propulsion and power, the material has remarkable qualities of
transparency, ultraviolet resistance and operating temperatures.
When cast as large thin films, the thermoplastic material serves
exceptionally well as solar thermal concentrators for space-based
propulsion and power concepts and, potentially, for inflatable
large space antennas.
The NASA inventors developed the
thermoplastic technology -- actually two similar polyimide chemical
compounds -- in a successful effort to improve upon the solar
energy absorption and reflectance of existing space-based systems.
Either compound can take the form of a highly-transparent and
nearly colorless thin film which has good solar energy
characteristics, is resistant to the environmental extremes of
space, and is lightweight, simple and economical for space launch
Benefits to the end user can be
dramatic. For example, SRS has developed fabrication processes to
cast precise thin film segments for use as power augmentation
panels for a satellite manufacturer that promise to increase the
power production of the satellites standard photovoltaic
Future aerospace applications may
include use in optics for space telescopes or spaceborne lasers;
antennas for communications, surveillance and positioning; solar
shielding; and aircraft and missile cabling.
The inventors will be honored at a
NASA Headquarters ceremony at which they will receive an award
check and certificate.
Also to be honored at the
Headquarters ceremony is a researcher from NASA Goddard Space
Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, who won the NASA Inventor of the Year
award for an optical encoder expected to improve the pointing
accuracy of the Hubble Space Telescope by a factor of 10.
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