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South Carolina Research Infrastructure Development

NASA is currently developing optical communications to use with its spacecraft—both in earth-orbit and in deep space. The Earth side and ground support mission of such communications links will require a network of low cost, ground-based telescopes. One researcher in South Carolina is developing mirrors that do not require any grinding, polishing, or figuring and therefore have the potential for being low cost and light weight with a short production time. Funding through the SC NASA EPSCoR RID program has allowed Dr. Lisa Brodhacker to advance her research in spin-cast epoxy telescope mirrors. Dr. Brodhacker, associate professor of chemistry at Lander University in Greenwood, SC collaborates with NASA JPL’s optical communications group to develop this technology. Brodhacker believes the key to producing high quality epoxy mirrors is to focus on the molecular level. Significant progress has been made to control both the chemical shrinkage and thermal expansion. She is also strengthening the overall epoxy by adding functionalized carbon nanotubes. A recently produced 50cm diameter f/2 spin-cast epoxy mirror has been measured to have a 6-8 micron RMS surface figure deviation and approximately 1 nm microroughness (Figure of a mirror). “Student engagement is a high priority”, states Dr. Brodhacker. “Even at the undergraduate level, students complete chemical syntheses, are often in charge of polymer testing, and bring in their own ideas. These “hands on” chemical and scientific activities are not only directly useful to the mirror research but advance student careers via their publications and experience.” Astronomer Russ Genet, director of the Orion Observatory in California and another collaborator with Dr. Brodhacker, says that the astronomical community is “very excited” about Brodhacker’s research. “Her quest to produce a mirror that’s lighter, more durable and less expensive than its glass counterpart”, he said, is “very, very close to success.”

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NASA EPSCoR Stimuli 2014 -15

The top image shows a 0.5 meter epoxy mirror being mounted so it can be aluminized in the vacuum chamber. The lower image shows Dr. Lisa Brodhacker and one of her students checking for unreacted sodium metal in a reaction flask.

EPSCoR Stimuli 2014-15  

NASA Office of Education’s Aerospace Research & Career Development (ARCD) is pleased to release NASA EPSCoR Stimuli, a collection of univers...

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