Blowing Giant Polymer Bubbles in Space Could Pave the Way to Space Civilizations

Thursday, 15 October 2015 - 10:29AM
Technology
Thursday, 15 October 2015 - 10:29AM
Blowing Giant Polymer Bubbles in Space Could Pave the Way to Space Civilizations
If humans ever try to colonize space, much of the technology we need would be available to us, if only it weren't so costly. We would likely need to build large-scale structures such as habitats and microwave reflectors, but unfortunately, payloads from Earth to space cost approximately $10,000 per pound, which would make the cost prohibitively expensive. Now, DARPA-funded research may allow us to bypass that step and build these structures in space, using a method that involves blowing massive polymer bubbles.



Manufacturing in microgravity presents its own set of challenges, including the extreme temperatures, near-vacuum conditions, and radiation. But this patented method from Physical Sciences, Inc. may solve those problems, as it takes advantage of conditions in space in order to make the process work. The method involves coating the spacecraft's injector port with a polymer film and then pressurizing that film, inducing it to form bubbles. The polymer film includes a hardening agent that is activated when exposed to the ultraviolet light in the space environment. Then, when the bubble is rigid, vaporized metal is sprayed inside and dispersed by the microgravity, coating the bubble in a metal that is necessary to the manufacturing process.

Then, a second bubble is formed, but not sprayed with the vaporized metal, and the two bubbles are made to intersect, forming a super-thin material that can be used in building many different structures that would be crucial to a space civilization. Ultimately, the method allows a spacecraft to eject a huge metalized polymer bubble up to hundreds of meters in diameter, and as little as one micron thick.

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"We are talking about specific applications here: large structures involving curvatures, such as microwave reflectors, solar sails, drag devices to induce orbital decay and so forth," Prakash Joshi, the manager of Advanced Systems Technologies at PSI told Motherboard. "In this context, to make structures on the scale of tens of meters in linear dimension, it becomes difficult to fabricate them here on earth and then transport them to orbit. Therefore, wouldn't it be better to fabricate very large, lighter weight structures in space?"
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According to PSI, the technology needed for this method is already in existence, and the only issue is funding. But if this method could be demonstrated in space, then we may be a significant step closer to orbital living.

Opening quote
"The next step would be demonstrate the deployment of a spherical bubble in space. This could be done at reasonably low cost from a small spacecraft, such as a Cubesat, for a limited duration mission in low earth orbit," said Joshi. "The obstacles for the demonstration are not technological or engineering, it is a matter of finding the needed funding."
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