Composite Enhancing Nano-Barrier Changes Spacecraft Construction


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.

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. 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.

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