Spacecraft

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.

Benefits of Plastics for Demanding Spacecraft Applications:

  • 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 MATERIALS USED IN SPACECRAFT APPLICATIONS

abs-sheet-black

ABS

Outstanding impact resistant low cost plastic, easy to machine, and thermoform.

acetal-sheet-rod-tube-bw

Acetal

High strength, stiff, low friction engineering plastic with good wear properties.

vespel-plaque-rod

DuPont™ Vespel® Polyimide

Extremely high temperature creep resistant plastic with excellent friction and wear characteristics.

stacked sheets and rod of DuPont™ Vespel® SP-1

DuPont™ Vespel® SP-1

DuPont™ Vespel® Polyimide SP-1 is unfilled and offers superior electrical and thermal insulation properties.

two stacked sheets and a rod of DuPont™ Vespel® Polyimide

DuPont™ Vespel® SP-21

DuPont™ Vespel® Polyimide SP-21 is a graphite-enhanced grade with low-friction properties.

two stacked sheets and a rod of DuPont™ Vespel® Polyimide

DuPont™ Vespel® SP-211

DuPont™ Vespel® Polyimide SP-211 has a lower coefficient of friction than SP-21 without lubrication.

stacked sheets and rod of DuPont™ Vespel® SP-3

DuPont™ Vespel® SP-3

DuPont™ Vespel® Polyimide SP-3 for unlubricated sealing and low wear in vacuum or dry environments with low outgassing.

ectfe-halar-rod

ECTFE

Fluoropolymer with outstanding mechanical properties and dimensional stability.

ETFE in varying shapes and sizes displayed next to one another

ETFE

Plastic material with excellent mechanical strength, stiffness, and abrasion resistance.

fep-group-natural

FEP

Flexible fluoropolymer with outstanding chemical resistance and electrical properties.

KYDEX® Thermoplastic sheets in various colors stacked and fanned out

KYDEX® Thermoplastic Sheet

High impact, thermoplastic sheet that is tough, durable, and easy to form.

noryl-sheet-black

Noryl®

Engineering plastic with outstanding strength, stiffness, and electrical insulating properties.

nylon-group-castnylon

Nylon

Strong, stiff engineering plastic often used to replace metal bearings and bushings.

PAI-sheet-rod

PAI

Extremely stong, stiff, dimensionally stable plastic material often used in elevated temperature environments.

pctfe-group-white

PCTFE

Fluoropolymer with outstanding dimensional stability, mechanical properties, and temperature range.

peek-sheet-rod

PEEK

Strong, stiff plastic with outstanding chemical resistance; performs over a wide range of temperatures.

pfa-group-white

PFA

Flexible fluoropolymer that performs well in extreme temperature and harsh chemical environments.

polycarbonate-sheet-clear

Polycarbonate

Transparent, strong and stiff thermoplastic with outstanding impact resistance.

Three sheets of polyester film fanned out

Polyester Film

Transparent plastic with outstanding strength, dimensional stability, and chemical resistance.

pps_group

PPS

Plastic material with excellent chemical and corrosion resistance at elevated temperatures.

ptfe-group-white

PTFE

Low friction engineering plastic with outstanding chemical, high temperature, and weathering resistance.

pvdf-sheet-natural

PVDF

High purity engineering plastic with excellent chemical, abrasion, and flame resistance.

ultem-group-multi

Ultem®

High strength plastic with outstanding electrical and high service temperature properties.

Plastic Applications for Spacecraft:

  • 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

Counterfeit Dupont™ Vespel® Can Ground Your Product & Put Your Company At Risk

Options To Meet Flame, Smoke, And Toxicity Requirements

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Not sure which materials best fit your needs?

Our experienced sales and technical teams are available to assist you with material selection challenges.

FAQs

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

Which plastics can operate reliably at cryogenic temperatures?

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

Which plastics can I use for extremely high temperature applications?

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

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