Insaco
Quakertown, PA
www.insaco.com

Since 1947, Insaco has been machining, grinding, and polishing ceramics, sapphire, and glass to meet and often exceed client specifications. A large portion of the company’s machining capabilities have centered around the aerospace industry, starting with sapphire cover plates on the first Telstar communications satellite in the early 1960s.

The robotic external leak locator for the International Space Station.

As a provider of parts for microwave tubes used in communication with satellites, Insaco was chosen by Telstar to supply sapphire cover plates for the satellite’s solar cells — which covered the outer surface of the satellite — as a precaution against electromagnetic radiation. The sapphire coating protected the solar cells from gamma rays and other forms of electromagnetic interference.

In another recent application, Stanford Research Systems (SRS), NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), and Johnson Space Center (JSC) worked together to adapt the SRS RGA100 quadrupole mass spectrometer for operation in the vacuum of space. The instrument, containing parts made by Insaco, was held at the end of the International Space Station (ISS) robot arm. By moving the device around suspect areas outside the ISS, NASA was able to identify the source of ammonia leaks from heat exchangers.

One drawback is that the instrument has to be stored inside the ISS and taken outside when needed — a time-intensive task. NASA and SRS are currently working to devise an improved system that would live in what NASA calls a “Dog House” — a protective structure outside the ISS in vacuum — saving transition time.

Telstar 1 — a 171-pound, 34.5-inch sphere with solar panels covered with sapphire cover plates — was placed in orbit on July 10, 1962.

In addition to the mass spectrometer, Insaco has met a number of space-related challenges including providing parts for the Chandra X-Ray Telescope, additional mass spectrometer parts and Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer parts for NASA Goddard, sapphire imaging chips for the Hubble Space Telescope, spacesuit parts, and key sapphire sight tubes for the ISS urine reclamation system.

The company also has provided various machined parts for applications in which extremely tight tolerances were required for NASA centers including Jet Propulsion Laboratory, JSC, Kennedy Space Center, Langley Research Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Wallops Flight Facility.

For space applications, products must work the first time and every time as needed. Each part within a system for space use must meet exact specifications, and often, the parts must be made of hard materials such as sapphire or ceramic to withstand the harsh environment of space. Insaco often makes recommendations on material selection, and machines parts to the extremely tight tolerances and surface requirements of space applications.

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Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the July, 2019 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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