A report describes improvements over the conventional Whipple shield (two thin, spaced aluminum walls) for protecting spacecraft against high-speed impacts of orbiting debris. The debris in question arises mainly from breakup of older spacecraft. The improved shields include exterior "bumper" layers composed of hybrid fabrics woven from combinations of ceramic fibers and high-density metallic wires or, alternatively, completely metallic outer layers composed of high-strength steel or copper wires. These shields are designed to be light in weight, yet capable of protecting against orbital debris with mass densities up to about 9 g/cm3, without generating damaging secondary debris particles. As yet another design option, improved shields can include sparsely distributed wires made of shape memory metals that can be thermally activated from compact storage containers to form shields of predetermined shape upon arrival in orbit. The improved shields could also be used to augment shields installed previously.
This work was done by Eric L. Christiansen and Justin H. Kerr of Johnson Space Center. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Materials category.
This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to the Patent Counsel, Johnson Space Center, (281) 483-0837. Refer to MSC-22330.