New 3D printed polymer that could be used in space, developed by Virginia Tech Team.
Newswise — Virginia Tech researchers have created a novel way to 3-D print the type of high-temperature polymeric materials commonly used to insulate space craft and satellites from extreme heat and cold.
Previously, the polyimide could previously be made only in sheets.
The material, formally known as Kapton, is an aromatic polymer composed of carbons and hydrogens inside benzene rings, which provides exceptional thermal and chemical stability. But because of this molecular structure, the material is notoriously difficult to produce in any format other than thin sheets. Kapton often is used in the multi-layer insulation that forms the outer wrapping of spacecraft, satellites, and planetary rovers to protect them from extreme heat and cold. It often is mistaken for “gold foil.”
During a year-long process, researchers from the College of Engineering and College of Science were able to synthesize the macromolecules, allowing them to remain stable and maintain their thermal properties for processing in 3-D printing. With this breakthrough, the high-performance polymer now could theoretically be used in any shape, size, or structure. And not just within the aerospace industry. The same material can be found in scores of electronic devices, including cell phones and televisions.
“Conventional processing routes have limited engineers to make only thin films from these materials,” said Christopher Williams, an associate professor with the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering and leader of the Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems (DREAMS) Laboratory. “Now that we can 3-D print these materials, we can start designing and printing them into much more complex 3-D shapes, which allows us to take advantage of their excellent properties over a much broader range of applications.”
Materials currently used in 3-D printing do not have the high strength and stiffness across broad hot-cold temperature ranges necessary for the extremes of space.