Kapton is a polyimide film developed by DuPont in the late 1960s that remains stable across a wide range of temperatures, from −269 to +400 °C (−452 to 752 °F; 4 to 673 K). Kapton is used in, among other things, flexible printed circuits (flexible electronics) and thermal blankets used on spacecraft, satellites, and various space instruments.
The chemical name for Kapton K and HN is poly (4,4'-oxydiphenylene-pyromellitimide). It is produced from the condensation of pyromellitic dianhydride and 4,4'-oxydiphenylamine. Kapton synthesis is an example of the use of a dianhydride in step polymerization. The intermediate polymer, known as a "poly(amic acid)", is soluble because of strong hydrogen bonds to the polar solvents usually employed in the reaction. The ring closure is carried out at high temperatures (200–300 °C (392–572 °F; 473–573 K)).
The thermal conductivity of Kapton at temperatures from 0.5 to 5 kelvin is rather high for such low temperatures, κ = 4.638×10−3 T0.5678 W·m−1·K−1. This, together with its good dielectric qualities and its availability as thin sheets have made it a favorite material in cryogenics, as it provides electrical insulation at low thermal gradients. Kapton is regularly used as an insulator in ultra-high vacuum environments due to its low outgassing rate.
Kapton-insulated electrical wiring has been widely used in civil and military aircraft because it is lighter than other insulators and has good insulating and temperature characteristics. However, Kapton insulation ages poorly: an FAA study shows degradation in hot, humid environments, or in the presence of seawater. It was found to have very poor resistance to mechanical wear, mainly abrasion within cable harnesses due to aircraft movement. Many aircraft models have had to undergo extensive rewiring modifications—sometimes completely replacing all the Kapton-insulated wiring—because of short circuits caused by the faulty insulation. Kapton-wire degradation and chafing due to vibration and heat has been implicated in multiple crashes of both fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft, with loss of life.
The descent stage of the Apollo Lunar Module, and the bottom of the ascent stage surrounding the ascent engine, were covered in blankets of aluminized Kapton foil to provide thermal insulation. During the return journey from the Moon, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong commented that during the launch of the Lunar Module ascent stage, he could see "Kapton and other parts on the LM staging scattering all around the area for great distances."
According to a NASA internal report, space shuttle "wires were coated with an insulator known as Kapton that tended to break down over time, causing short circuits and, potentially, fires." The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory has considered Kapton as a good plastic support for solar sails because of its long duration in the space environment.
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft used Kapton in an innovative "Thermos bottle" insulation design to keep the craft operating between 10–30 °C (50–86 °F) throughout its more than nine-year, 3 billion mile journey to rendezvous with the dwarf planet Pluto on July 14, 2015. The main body is covered in lightweight, gold-colored, multilayered thermal insulation which holds in heat from operating electronics to keep the spacecraft warm. The thermal blanketing–18 layers of Dacron mesh cloth sandwiched between aluminized Mylar and Kapton film–also helped to protect the craft from micrometeorites.
Kapton is also commonly used as a material for windows of all kinds at X-ray sources (synchrotron beam-lines and X-ray tubes) and X-ray detectors. Its high mechanical and thermal stability and high transmittance to X-rays make it the preferred material. It is also relatively insensitive to radiation damage.
Due to its large range of temperature stability, and its electrical isolation ability, Kapton tape is usually used in electronic manufacturing as an insulation and protection layer on electrostatic sensitive and fragile components. As it can sustain the temperature needed for a reflow soldering operation, its protection is available throughout the whole production process, and Kapton is often still present in the final consumer product.
Kapton and ABS adhere to each other very well, which has led to widespread use of Kapton as a build surface for 3D printers. Kapton is laid down on a flat surface and the ABS is extruded onto the Kapton surface. The ABS part being printed will not detach from the build platform as it cools and shrinks, a common cause of print failure by warping of the part. A more durable alternative is to use a polyetherimide surface.
Researchers have also come up with a way to 3D-print polyimide material including Kapton. The precursors to Kapton were mixed into an ultraviolet-treated gel for extrusion printing, and the result is baked in an oven at 400 °C to yield the final result.
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