NASA 1998 SBIR Phase I

PROPOSAL NUMBER: 98-1 19.11-4242

PROJECT TITLE: High Performance Balloon Envelope Materials for Planetary Aerobots


NASA has determined that Planetary Aerobots are one of the best lightweight vehicles for monitoring the atmosphere (in-situ) and the surfaces (proximally) of Mars, Titan, Venus and outer planets for extended periods of time. Traditional materials unfortunately cannot provide the required temperature capabilities and specific strength to meet the structural and weight goals for planned explorations such as those scheduled for Mars. To solve this problem Foster-Miller is proposing to use an advanced high strength, super-barrier, dimensionally stable and cryogenically flexible lyotropic liquid crystal polymer to produce Planetary Aerobot envelopes that meet all performance requirements. We will utilize our proprietary and patented Rotating Die extrusion technology to produce quasi isotropic biaxially oriented film form the highly anisotropic LCP polymer PBO (poly p-phenylene polybensoxazole). In Phase I processing equipment and operating protocols, recommendations will be established for improving gauge uniformity of PBO films. PBO film will be extruded and further processed to tailor film properties for a selected Planetary Aerobot application. Stitching and seaming technologies will also be developed for forming stress concentrator free seams that maintain the PBO’s excellent barrier properties. These technological breakthroughs will become the foundation/enabling technology for producing full or reduced scale Planetary Aerobots in Phase II.


The balloon technology developed in this program using PBO has numerous commercial applications. Similar balloons can be used for communications, earth sensing platforms and long duration scientific platforms. This PBO technology can also be used to fabricate extended flight miniature balloons that will be used to support terrestrial climate investigations and weather predictions. In addition this same technology, if scale-up to very large sizes does not become overly problematic, may be an ideal envelope material for the new generation large scale stratospheric balloons. These Ultra Long Duration Balloons (ULDB) will be used for communications and must have suitable properties to survive launch, ascent and float operations for extended durations. In addition the film processing enhancements that will be generated during this program can become an enabling technology for producing lightweight honeycomb core for commercial aerospace vehicles and liners for lightweight composite fuel tanks for cryogenic fluids.


Leslie S. Rubin
Foster-Miller, Inc.
350 Second Ave.
Waltham , MA 02154


Foster-Miller, Inc.
350 Second Avenue
Waltham , MA 02154