Fabrication of Spherical Reflectors in Outer Space

Process takes advantage of vacuum.

A process is proposed for fabrication of lightweight spherical reflectors in outer space for telescopes, radio antennas, and light collectors that would be operated there. The process would obviate the relatively massive substrates and frames needed to support such reflectors in normal Earth gravitation. According to the proposal, fabrication of a reflector would begin with blowing of a bubble to the specified reflector radius. Taking advantage of the outer-space vacuum as a suitable environment for evaporative deposition of metal, a metal-evaporation source would be turned on and moved around the bubble to deposit a reflective metal film over the specified reflector area to a thickness of several microns. Then the source would be moved and aimed to deposit more metal around the edge of the reflector area, increasing the thickness there to 100 µm to form a frame. Then the bubble would be deflated and peeled off the metal, leaving a thin-film spherical mirror having an integral frame. The mirror would then be mounted for use.

The feasibility of this technology has been proved by fabricating a prototype at JPL. As shown in the figure, a 2-in. (5-cm) diameter hemispherical prototype reflector was made from a polymer bubble coated with silver, forming a very smooth surface.

This work was done by Yu Wang, Jennifer Dooley, and Mark Dragovan of Caltech and Wally Serivens of the University of South Carolina for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Manufacturing category. NPO-30649

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