Inflatable and deployable beams and masts such as solar sail supports used in space missions are often made of polymer composites and may be stored for one to two years in space before deployment. While stored, these polymer composites degrade on a molecular level, which can limit the ability of the beams to unfurl properly, reducing performance or even failing to unfurl. Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center developed a fiber-reinforced polymer composite to reduce the effect of viscoelastic creep and prolong the molecular integrity of polymer-based beams over time.
The technology augments the molecular structure of the resin matrix by incorporating secondary additives and adjusting the composite architecture. Test results show that the new material reduces relaxation in the modified-molecular structure to as low as 5 percent from the initial modulus after two years. This compares to 49 percent relaxation after one year for the state-of-the-art, commercially available options.
The applications of the technology are in aerospace: durable and stable inflatable and deployable structures (e.g., payload booms, solar sail deployable booms, solar power arrays, antenna supports, space habitats, planetary decelerators); military: reinforced body armor for soldiers (e.g., vest, combat helmet, gloves), inflatable and deployable structures (e.g., barracks), reinforced shock-absorbing material for vehicles and aircraft, material for advanced combat weapons and tools; marine: hull boats in structural frames, keels, masts, poles, boom, winch drums, and shafting; as well as sporting goods: improved durability and mechanical stability of a wide variety of sporting goods such as snow boards, golf clubs, tennis racquets, etc.