Composite Enhancing Nano-Barrier Could Change Spacecraft Construction
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on January 13, 2020 |
Researchers has developed a nano-barrier for composites that enhances their integrity.

Carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) composite has been used for space missions for years and continues to be tested for further applications. Focusing on its limited use due to its water absorption rates, researchers at Airbus Defense and Space and the University of Surrey have created a layered ultralight, nanoscale barrier that could change how future spacecraft are built.

“We have been using carbon-fiber composites on our spacecraft and instrument structures for many years, but the newly developed nano-barrier, together with our ultra-high-modulus CFRP manufacturing capability, will enable us to create the next generation of non-outgassing CFRP materials with much more dimensional stability for optics and payload support,” said Christian Wilhelmi, head of Mechanical Subsystems and Research and Technology Friedrichshafen at Airbus Defense and Space.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft features advanced composite materials. A new nano-barrier could increase the use of composites, which are more lightweight and heat resistant than other materials, for future spacecraft. (Image courtesy of NASA.)
NASA’s Orion spacecraft features advanced composite materials. A new nano-barrier could increase the use of composites, which are more lightweight and heat resistant than other materials, for future spacecraft. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

Current applications of composites can be found on vehicles, satellites and payloads used in space, as well as launch vehicles. Their appeal is due to their light weight, environmental stability and resistance to high temperatures. For decades, they have been used for nozzles and reentry heat shields. As technology progressed, the material began to be used for an array of parts, including panels, reflectors, deployment equipment, thermal protection systems and laminates.

The downside of using composites has often been the time and resources needed to address the water absorption issue, which requires additional procedures to keep the moisture from being released as a gas, including drying, recalibrating and baking. Even with those extra precautions, the problem wasn’t completely solved.

In their paper, the researchers demonstrated that their nano-barrier could eliminate those extra procedures, as well as the need for composites to have controlled storage prior to being treated.

“We are confident that the reinforced composite we have reported is a significant improvement over similar methods and materials already on the market,” said Professor Ravi Silva, director of the Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey. “These encouraging results suggest that our barrier could eliminate the considerable costs and dangers associated with using carbon fiber reinforced polymers in space missions.”

The team’s nano-barrier is sub-micrometers thick, significantly lighter than coatings currently available, which measure in the tens of micrometers. Although thinner and more lightweight, it is highly resistant to stress and contamination. In addition, its integrity reinforces the underlying composite, making it impervious to moisture. Testing was performed on a model component for the Sentinel-5 mission.

By eliminating the major downside to composites, this research could open the door for this flexible, durable and cost-efficient material to reduce the cost of payloads as well as spacecraft construction.


Interested in more spacecraft news? Check out Relativity Space Spends US$59M On Massive 3D Printer Farm.


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