Plastic materials for use in space vehicles, satellites, and spacecraft instrumentation

Space launch vehicles, satellites, and spacecraft instruments are all part of the rapidly growing space technology industry. Plastics are extremely important for spacecraft, primarily because of the weight savings that can be achieved using these materials.

Thermoplastics and thermoplastic composites are used for a wide range of spacecraft applications including bearings, optical lens centering rings, valve and regulator components, electrical insulators, radomes, and magnetometer components.

Selecting plastics for spacecraft applications involves a number of considerations unique to the space environment. Design considerations include resistance to atomic oxygen and radiation, flammability including compatibility with liquid oxygen (LOX) and gaseous oxygen (GOX), and outgassing and friction and wear characteristics in vacuum conditions. It is also important to consider the behavior of plastics in the extreme temperatures associated with launch and when operating in space.

Curbell Plastics supplies a number of high-performance polymers including Ultem®, PCTFE, PTFE, and DuPont™ Vespel® polyimide, that are frequently specified by spacecraft designers.

Plastic materials, Thermoplastics and Thermoplastic Composites, for use in spacecraft applications. Learn more at Curbell Plastics.

Plastics Materials for satellites and spacecraft antenna radomes. Learn more at Curbell Plastics.

Materials for spacecraft challenges

The plastic materials used in spacecraft applications must be able to meet a number of demanding performance requirements including:

  • Low outgassing in vacuum
  • Low friction, long life, and low wear on mating metal surfaces in vacuum
  • Good sealing characteristics and consistent actuation torque when used in spacecraft valves
  • Resistance to solvents, propellants, and other corrosive chemicals
  • Resistance to radiation from sources both internal and external to the spacecraft
  • Resistance to erosion from atomic oxygen
  • The ability to operate reliably in a space environment with a temperature range of -150 °C to 130 degrees °C
  • The ability to operate at elevated temperatures when used in rocket engine applications
  • Excellent flammability characteristics including compatibility with LOX (liquid oxygen) and GOX (gaseous oxygen)
  • Low moisture absorption prior to flight
  • Excellent dimensional stability including a low and consistent coefficient of thermal expansion
  • Sufficient mechanical properties to withstand the stresses associated with launch
  • Light weight / high specific strength, and high specific modulus
  • Excellent fatigue resistance including the ability to withstand vibration and thermal cycling
  • Low dielectric constant and low dissipation factor throughout a broad range of temperatures and frequencies when used for spacecraft antenna radomes
  • High dielectric strength for electrical insulators
  • Low thermal conductivity for thermal insulators
  • Vibration damping characteristics for sensitive optics and electronics

Plastic applications for spacecraft include:

  • Authentic DuPont™ Vespel® Polyimide is frequently specified by spacecraft designers. Learn more at Curbell Plastics.Antenna components including bearings, electrical insulators, and radomes
  • Bearings and bushings
  • Centering rings for optical lenses
  • Electrical connectors
  • Electrical insulators
  • Magnetometer components
  • Polymer locking elements for locking fasteners
  • Poppets
  • Seals
  • Spline couplings
  • Thermal insulators
  • Valve seats
  • Valve, solenoid, actuator, and regulator components
  • Wheels and rollers

Plastic materials used in spacecraft applications include:



Counterfeit DuPont™ Vespel® can ground your product & put your company at risk

Are you getting authentic materials? Do you have confidence in your supplier’s supply chain? Curbell Plastics is an authorized supplier of DuPont™ Vespel®. There are reports of unauthorized resellers attempting to sell the DuPont™ Vespel® product as to unsuspecting customers and alter the Certificate of Conformance (CoC). These altered CoCs do not contain the correct lot number information for traceability purposes. Purchasing materials from an unreliable (or unauthorized) supplier may pose a performance risk and product traceability is compromised.

  • How can I tell whether or not the DuPont™ Vespel® shapes I have are authentic? 
    The first step to ensure that you are purchasing Authentic DuPont™ Vespel® shapes is to buy only from an authorized DuPont distributor, such as Curbell Plastics.

    Product purchased from an authorized DuPont distributor will be labeled with a genuine DuPont™ Vespel® shapes product label and accompanied by an official CoC. The tamper-evident product labels are serialized to add a level of traceability and contain covert security technology that helps prevent counterfeiting of Authentic DuPont™ Vespel® shapes product labels. If you doubt that a product label is genuine, Curbell will verify its authenticity at no expense.

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Take advantage of our plastic fabrication and machining services to save time and money on plastic parts. Utilizing in-house capabilities and partnering with fabrication specialists we provide customers with reliable fabrication solutions, machined parts and cut-to-size materials for any application.

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Frequently Asked Questions
Which plastic materials have the best performance in a vacuum environment?

DuPont™ Vespel® SP-1 and PEEK have good vacuum sealing characteristics. DuPont™ Vespel® SP-3 has excellent friction and wear properties in vacuum sliding against many metal counterface materials. NASA lists a number of Curbell’s plastic materials as having low outgassing behavior in their online database, Outgassing Data for Selecting Spacecraft Materials.

Which plastics can operate reliably at cryogenic temperatures?

The plastics used for cryogenic applications need to maintain ductility at cryogenic temperatures and also have low rates of thermal contraction. For applications that involve sliding wear, the plastics need to have low friction and long wear life at cryogenic temperatures. Various grades of PEEK, DuPont™ Vespel®, filled PTFE, and PCTFE are often specified for cryogenic applications.

Which plastics have the best resistance to erosion from exposure to atomic oxygen?

Certain fluoropolymers including PCTFE, ETFE (Tefzel®), FEP, and PFA exhibit comparatively good resistance to erosion from atomic oxygen. Contact Curbell Plastics’ technical team for additional detail on this.

Which plastics can I use for extremely high temperature applications?

Selecting plastics for elevated temperature applications involves reviewing a number of performance characteristics including dynamic modulus, thermal degradation behavior, thermal expansion coefficients, and creep and stress relaxation behavior. Materials including Ultem® PEI, PEEK, Torlon® PAI, PPSU (Radel® R), and DuPont™ Vespel® are often specified for elevated temperature applications.

Which plastics have the best sealing characteristics when used for fluid handling applications?

Plastics used for fluid handling applications must be resistant to the process fluids and also non-contaminating to process fluids. For sealing applications, the plastics must have moderate modulus to allow them to conform to mating metal surfaces and create a seal as well as sufficient creep and stress relaxation characteristics to prevent leaks over time. PEEK, PCTFE, FEP, PFA, unfilled and filled PTFE materials, and DuPont™ Vespel® are often specified for fluid handling applications.