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Stabilizing UHMWPE for the space environment

Stabilizing UHMWPE for the space environment

Stabilizing UHMWPE for the space environment


I'm working with a lab at the University of Notre Dame to try to make a better material for solar sails. They've created a polyethylene/graphene nanocomposite film (paper attached) that is roughly on par with kevlar in terms of unidirectional strength (whether biaxial drawing will work well remains to be seen). NASA seems interested and encouraged us to submit an SBIR proposal for it. I've come up with a testing plan for seeing how well the material will hold up to the space environment, but it's going to be expensive and slow. We might well only get one shot at getting it right.

The major question here is how to stabilize the 1 micron thick polymer film so it doesn't degrade too much after being hit with high energy protons, electrons and copious amounts of UV light (maybe even atomic oxygen) for years.

The normal goto surviving UV/weathering is carbon black or passivized titanium oxide. It works really well to block the UV without it penetrating much and can act as a mild antioxidant.

The catch there is that radiation is going to penetrate anyway, so it would probably be a good idea to try to prevent it from propagating damage but carbon black is known not to play too well with other anti-oxidation solutions.

If I may ask, does anyone know how this is usually handled? I would just try lots of different formulations, but testing for it iteration is going to cost $$$$ and take months.

Charlie West

RE: Stabilizing UHMWPE for the space environment

You might have a look at COC. One trade name is Topas
It's UV transparent, ok to gamma sterilization, and used as a barrier film layer
so film is available somewhere.

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