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A Material Fit for Space

Satellites and other space vehicles have to endure extraordinarily harsh environments. An invention by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) could improve their chances of survival.

Scientists from NTU EEE’s Centre for Micro-/Nano-electronics (NOVITAS) have developed a new type of hybrid material that can better prevent the build-up of the electrostatic discharge found in space. This quality is crucial in materials to protect space vehicles as the discharge can damage on- board electronic systems, degrade their surfaces and cause other problems.

Only a few materials are space-qualified for use as thermal control blankets that protect space vehicles in the unforgiving space environment. These include polyimides, which are known for their low cost and high thermal stability, elasticity and tensile strength .

Polyimides’ dielectric nature, however, makes them vulnerable to electrostatic discharge build-up. 

Some researchers have added conductive nano-particles, such as graphene and carbon nanotubes as “nano-fillers” in the polyimides to improve on their properties. However due to the disconnected nature of these particles, a high percentage of materials have to be added to make any significant change. This in turns modifies the other useful properties of the polyimides degrading their overall performance. 

The NTU EEE team, led by Prof Teo Hang Tong, Edwin developed a new way to infuse a 3D interconnected graphene (termed 3D-C) into the polyimide creating a composite which uses less than 0.03% of new materials ensuring stability in the other properties.

When tested in ground-based simulated space environments, the NTU EEE material improved on pure polyimide materials’ thermal and electrical characteristics by 1,033 per cent and 10 orders of magnitude respectively.

The results showed that it can provide long-term and stable electrostatic discharge shielding protection for space vehicles.

By Professor Teo Hang Tong, Edwin

Click here to find out more.


Published on: 26-July-2017 ​​​​

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