Antennas Made From Inflatables

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Leaps and bounds are always being made when it comes to technology. It seems that many of us cannot keep up with how quickly new and innovative products are being developed. You just bought an iPhone 4? Well, now there’s an iPhone 5. No matter how far technology progresses, inflatables always seem to fit into the mix somewhere. I don’t mean the bounce houses and inflatable obstacle courses we have at backyard birthday parties – I’m speaking more about airbags and other safety devices.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that inflatables have recently been playing a large part in exploration of space. Just a few weeks ago, we talked about an inflatable elevator project that would potentially reach the moon. Before that, we looked at the inflatable tech that allowed the Mars Curiosity Rover to land safely on the Red Planet. Now, there is a story about inflatable space antennas. According to Space News:

“Space Ground Amalgam…is working with partners, including L’Garde Inc. of Tustin, Calif., to offer antennas designed be stored in compact containers during launch, then inflated and hardened once on orbit. The concept relies on recent advances in shaped polymers and nanomaterials to produce lightweight antennas that can be deployed in space and hardened to withstand…”

The article says the L’Garde has been looking into inflatable space antenna installations since the 1980s. It stalled due to concerns about punctures, but found that temperature-sensitive resins placed in between layers of fabric can be as soft or as hard as needed to ensure structural integrity. Currently, the plan is to test this process in 2014, evn though there is one hitch:

“One of the challenges in developing inflatable antennas is finding ways to make antenna surfaces smooth enough to meet mission requirements. Unlike the mirrors destined for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which industry teams can polish for years, mirrors included in inflatable antennas have defects that have to be tolerated…”

Do you think this use of inflatables will be successful?