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The Effects of Gravity on the Crystallization Behavior of Heavy Metal Fluoride GlassesHeavy metal fluoride glasses are used in such applications as fiber lasers and laser amplifiers. ZrF4-BaF2-LaF3-AlF3-NaF (ZBLAN) is one of the more commonly used heavy metal fluoride glasses. ZBLAN is an infrared transmitter and has a theoretical attenuation coefficient of 0.002 db/km. However, due to impurities and small crystallites this attenuation coefficient has not been achieved to date. ZBLAN is a fragile glass which can lead to rapid crystallization, if the glass is not cooled rapidly to below the glass transition temperature or if the glass is reheated near the crystallization temperature for any period of time. Studies carried on at Marshall Space Flight Center and the University of Alabama in Huntsville since 1993 have shown that heating ZBLAN glass at the crystallization temperature in reduced gravity results in a suppression of crystallization when compared to ZBLAN processed in unit gravity. These studies utilized NASA's KC-135 aircraft and the Conquest sounding rocket. In the first series of experiments, short lengths of ZBLAN fiber were heated to the crystallization temperature in reduced gravity on board the KC- 135 and the Conquest sounding rocket and compared with fibers heated in unit gravity. The fibers processed in reduced gravity showed no evidence of crystallization when studied with x-ray diffraction and scanning electron microscopy. However, the fibers processed in unit gravity were completely crystallized. Subsequent experiments included heating small pieces of ZBLAN glass at the crystallization temperature while viewing with a video camera to follow the crystallization phenomenon. In this experiment crystallization was observed in reduced gravity, however, it was suppressed when compared to heating in unit gravity. In the most recent experiment on board the KC-135, rapid thermal analysis of ZBLAN was performed. A mechanism to explain the observations has been proposed. This mechanism is based on shear thinning whereby, the glass undergoes a reduction in viscosity in the 10(exp 5) - 10(exp 7) poise range, allowing more rapid diffusion and thus crystallization. It is proposed that this mechanism is suppressed in reduced gravity. An experiment is presently being conducted to test this theory. With increased knowledge of ZBLAN behavior in reduced gravity, three low earth orbit tiber drawing facilities have been designed. One would be suitable for use on the International Space Station, another while aboard the Space Shuttle and the third system is a fully automated facility which would operate independently of the ISS or Shuttle in a free float mode. The primary benefits of free floating a facility in LEO includes a higher quality of microgravity and reduced safety concerns since it is not in a manned environment.
Document ID
Document Type
Tucker, Dennis S.
(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Smith, Guy A.
(Alabama Univ. Huntsville, AL, United States)
Date Acquired
August 22, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2004
Subject Category
Metals And Metallic Materials
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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