It has been proposed that thin face sheets of wide-aperture deformable mirrors in adaptive-optics systems be made from a composite material consisting of cyanate ester filled with graphite. This composite material appears to offer an attractive alternative to low-thermal-expansion glasses that are used in some conventional optics and have been considered for adaptive-optics face sheets.
Adaptive-optics face sheets are required to have maximum linear dimensions of the order of meters or even tens of meters for some astronomical applications. If the face sheets were to be made from low-thermal-expansion glasses, then they would also be required to have thicknesses of the order of a millimeter so as to obtain the optimum compromise between the stiffness needed for support and the flexibility needed to enable deformation to controlled shapes by use of actuators.
It is difficult to make large glass sheets having thicknesses less than 3 mm, and 3-mm-thick glass sheets are too stiff to be deformable to the shapes typically required for correction of wavefronts of light that has traversed the terrestrial atmosphere. Moreover, the primary commercially produced candidate low-thermal-expansion glass is easily fractured when in the form of thin face sheets.
Graphite-filled cyanate ester has relevant properties similar to those of the low-expansion glasses. These properties include a coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) of the order of a hundredth of the CTEs of other typical mirror materials. The Young’s modulus (which quantifies stiffness in tension and compression) of graphite-filled cyanate ester is also similar to the Young’s moduli of low-thermal-expansion glasses. However, the fracture toughness of graphite-filled cyanate ester is much greater than that of the primary candidate low-thermal-expansion glass. Therefore, graphite-filled cyanate ester could be made into nearly unbreakable face sheets, having maximum linear dimensions greater than a meter and thicknesses of the order of a millimeter, that would satisfy the requirements for use in adaptive optics.