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NASA Studies Paper-Like Plastic for Space Electronics

NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office and the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) are evaluating a material called liquid crystal polymer (LCP) for electronics applications in space, as well as possible uses in consumer electronics. The ultra-thin, paper-like plastic can incorporate a variety of electronic circuits, while still molding to any shape. It also performs well in extreme temperatures and intense radiation found in space.

Flexible LCP antennas would be lighter in weight than structured antennas, and LCP-based circuits molded to spacecraft could eliminate metal boxes that currently house hard circuit boards. LCP also can serve as a substrate material on which semiconductor chips are attached, as well as the backplane that connects the chips. Microelectromechanical system (MEMS) devices also could be embedded on LCP. The polymer is an aromatic crystal polyester comprised of benzene rings, acetyloxy polymers, and carboxyl groups. It is near-hermetic — highly resistant to humidity and environmental conditions — and can be applied like wallpaper to spacecraft and other vehicles.

Radio frequency circuits for communications and radar are LCP’s most promising applications to date, but Georgia Tech researchers see uses in ultra-wideband sensor applications. The flexible nature of the polymer would enable it to be integrated with surfaces on airplanes, cars, and trucks. As production demand for LCP circuits increases, LCP-based circuits could have a role in next-generation consumer electronics.

For more information, visit http://gtresearchnews.gatech.edu/newsrelease/lcp.htm .