The use of high-strength, lightweight composites for the fixture is the novel feature of this innovation. The main advantage is the light weight and high stiffness-to-mass ratio relative to aluminum.
Meter-class optics require support during the grinding/polishing process with large tools. The use of aluminum as a polishing fixture is standard, with pitch providing a compliant layer to allow support without deformation. Unfortunately, with meter-scale optics, a meter-scale fixture weighs over 120 lb (≈55 kg) and may distort the optics being fabricated by loading the mirror and/or tool used in fabrication. The use of composite structures that are lightweight yet stiff allows standard techniques to be used while providing for a decrease in fixture weight by almost 70 percent.
Mounts classically used to support large mirrors during fabrication are especially heavy and difficult to handle. The mount must be especially stiff to avoid deformation during the optical fabrication process, where a very large and heavy lap often can distort the mount and optic being fabricated. If the optic is placed on top of the lapping tool, the weight of the optic and the fixture can distort the lap. Fixtures to support the mirror during fabrication are often very large plates of aluminum, often 2 in. (≈5 cm) or more in thickness and weight upwards of 150 lb (≈68 kg). With the addition of a backing material such as pitch and the mirror itself, the assembly can often weigh over 250 lb (≈113 kg) for a meter-class optic.
This innovation is the use of a lightweight graphite panel with an aluminum honeycomb core for use as the polishing fixture. These materials have been used in the aerospace industry as structural members due to their light weight and high stiffness. The grinding polishing fixture consists of the graphite composite panel, fittings, and fixtures to allow interface to the polishing machine, and introduction of pitch buttons to support the optic under fabrication. In its operation, the grinding polishing fixture acts as a reaction structure to the polishing tool. It must be stiff enough to avoid imparting a distorted shape to the optic under fabrication and light enough to avoid self-deflection. The fixture must also withstand significant tangential loads from the polishing machine during operations.
This work was done by John Hagopian, Carl Strojny, and Jason Budinoff of Goddard Space Flight Center. GSC-15911-1