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Automated Solvent Seaming of Large Polyimide Membranes

Success depends on precise control of all relevant process details.

A solvent-based welding process enables the joining of precise, cast polyimide membranes at their edges to form larger precise membranes. The process creates a homogeneous, optical - quality seam between abutting membranes, with no overlap and with only a very localized area of figure disturbance. The seam retains 90 percent of the strength of the parent material. The process was developed for original use in the fabrication of wide - aperture membrane optics, with areal densities densities of less than 1 kg/m2, for lightweight telescopes, solar concentrators, antennas, and the like to be deployed in outer space. The process is just as well applicable to the fabrication of large precise polyimide membranes for flat or inflatable solar concentrators and antenna reflectors for terrestrial applications.

The process is applicable to cast membranes made of CP1 (or equivalent) polyimide. The process begins with the precise fitting together and fixturing of two membrane segments. The seam is formed by applying a metered amount of a doped solution of the same polyimide along the abutting edges of the membrane segments. After the solution has been applied, the fixtured films are allowed to dry and are then cured by convective heating. The weld material is the same as the parent material, so that what is formed is a homogeneous, strong joint that is almost indistinguishable from the parent material.

The success of the process is highly dependent on formulation of the seaming solution from the correct proportion of the polyimide in a suitable solvent. In addition, the formation of reliable seams depends on the deposition of a precise amount of the seaming solution along the seam line. To ensure the required precision, deposition is performed by use of an automated apparatus comprising a modified commercially available, large-format, ink-jet print head on an automated positioning table. The printing head jets the seaming solution into the seam area at a rate controlled in coordination with the movement of the positioning table.

This work was done by Robert Rood of Marshall Space Flight Center and James D. Moore, Chris Talley, and Paul A. Gierow of SRS Technologies, Inc. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Manufacturing category. MFS-32129