Micro-Molded IMLI Matrix part
Phillips Plastics Corp.
Prescott, WI

To achieve a high level of energy density as well as green environmental performance and safety, NASA prefers to use cryogenic propellants such as liquid oxygen, hydrogen, and methane to propel their spacecraft. However, these propellants are at very cold temperatures, as low as -423°F, and must be stored in thermally insulated tanks to keep the contents from boiling off. Next-generation NASA exploration missions will require spacecraft such as the Altair Lunar Lander to maintain cryogenic propellants for up to six months.

Quest Product Corp. was called on to create a prototype of an advanced thermal insulation system called “Integrated Multilayer Insulation” (IMLI). Quest partnered with Ball Aerospace & Technologies to design the insulation, which involved engineering a system with multiple layers of radiation barriers held in precise spacing by a polymer substructure. In order to ensure the multiple layers delivered consistent, predictable performance, micro-molded spacers were needed to prevent the radiation barriers from bunching up or touching, allowing heat transfer.

The micro-molded spacer from Phillips Plastics, called the IMLI Matrix, features microscopic posts with snaps for holding the radiation barriers in place. The post-and-snap structure of each IMLI Matrix makes it possible for Quest to snap multiple radiation-barrier layers together — a key requirement to creating the structural integrity the IMLI thermal blanket demands to withstand 10-g-force launch loads. When combined, the IMLI Matrix components that make up the part remain microscopic in size. The IMLI thermal blanket will be 40 to 120 layers thick, which will require millions of IMLI Matrix parts for a real-sized NASA project.

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NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2009 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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