Folding Elastic Thermal Surface — FETS

The FETS is a light and compact thermal surface (sun shade, IR thermal shield, cover, and/or deployable radiator) that is mounted on a set of offset tape-spring hinges. The thermal surface is constrained during launch and activated in space by a thermomechanical latch such as a wax actuator.

FETS in its stowed and deployed states during high vacuum testing at JPL." class="caption" align="right">An application-specific embodiment of this technology developed for the MATMOS (Mars Atmospheric Trace Molecule Occultation Spectrometer) project serves as a deployable cover and thermal shield for its passive cooler. The FETS fits compactly against the instrument within the constrained launch envelope, and then unfolds into a larger area once in space. In this application, the FETS protects the passive cooler from thermal damage and contamination during ground operations, launch, and during orbit insertion. Once unfolded or deployed, the FETS serves as a heat shield, intercepting parasitic heat loads by blocking the passive cooler’s view of the warm spacecraft.

The technology significantly enhances the capabilities of instruments requiring either active or passive cooling of optical detectors. This can be particularly important for instruments where performance is limited by the available radiator area. Examples would be IR optical instruments on CubeSATs or those launched as hosted payloads because radiator area is limited and views are often undesirable. As a deployable radiator, the panels making up the FETS are linked thermally by thermal straps and heat pipes; the structural support and deployment energy is provided using tape-spring hinges.

The FETS is a novel combination of existing technologies. Prior art for deployable heat shields uses rotating hinges that typically must be lubricated to avoid cold welding or static friction. By using tapespring hinges, the FETS avoids the need for lubricants by avoiding friction altogether. This also eliminates the potential for contamination of nearby cooled optics by outgassing lubricants. Furthermore, the tape-spring design of the FETS is also selflocking so the panels stay in a rigid and extended configuration after deployment. This unexpected benefit makes the tapespring hinge design of the FETS a light, simple, reliable, compact, non-outgassing hinge, spring, and latch.

While tape-spring hinges are not novel, they have never been used to deploy passive unfolding thermal surfaces (radiator panels, covers, sun shades, or IR thermal shields). Furthermore, because this technology is compact, it has minimal impact on the launch envelope and mass specifications. FETS enhances the performance of hosted payload instruments where the science data is limited by dark noise.

Incorporating FETS into a thermal control system increases radiator area, which lowers the optical detector temperature. This results in higher SNR (signal-to-noise ratio) and improved science data.

This work was done by Eugenio Urquiza, Burt X. Zhang, Michael P. Thelen, Jose I. Rodriguez, and Sergio Pellegrino of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. NPO-48759

The U.S. Government does not endorse any commercial product, process, or activity identified on this web site.