December 2005/January 2006
Volume 04, Issue 8
BY GARY L. SANDERS
Everyone knows that Velcro® is pretty amazing stuff. It's a versatile fastener that can hold just about anything and can be used over and over without losing effectiveness. Recently, engineers at the Boeing Satellite Development Center in El Segundo, Calif., found another use for it: discharging static electricity from spacecraft.
The engineers found that they could apply a conductive polymer coating to the Velcro strips that attach thermal blankets to the spacecraft, allowing the strips to bleed off electrical currents that can be harmful to spacecraft components. The specially treated Velcro replaces approximately 90 percent of the grounding wire and related hardware by doubling the duty of the Velcro.
Extending a long history of Lean successes at the Satellite Development Center, they were able to eliminate more than 6,000 of the individual parts—wires, washers and screws—that were used to ground the thermal blanket and discharge static electricity.
"Those ground wires have always been a lot of work to attach," said Carlos Pozo, a team leader on the project. "We've been looking for ways to eliminate the thousands of required connections."
Pozo and his colleagues used a new, patented process called a Controlled Resistance Conformal Coating (CRCC). The coating, developed by Boeing scientist Chris Lee, resembles a varnish but also can conduct electricity. It offers conductivity low enough to bleed off charging currents without affecting the function of the circuits.
Lee and two colleagues, Phillip Leung and Lynn Long, have worked on conductive polymers more than seven years.
"I'm very excited to see how the CRCC technology can be applied," Lee said. "I believe it will result in a big cost savings in satellite development, as well as many other applications throughout the company."
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