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Researchers Develop Thermal Coatings for Spacecraft

Monday, April 30, 2018

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Researchers based out of the University of Southampton recently developed a new type of first-surface coating for spacecraft exteriors with light weight and durability that they say could change how craft are designed. Known as Metamaterial Optical Solar Reflectors, or Meta-OSRs, the coatings radiate infrared heat away while reflecting most of the optical solar spectrum.

According to the university, the OSRs are an essential component of thermal control for spacecraft.

Optical Solar Reflectors

Most commonly made from of quartz tiles with thermo-optical properties, OSRs are designed to reject solar radiation and dissipate heat generated onboard the spacecraft. The tiles themselves are often heavy and fragile, and cannot be applied to curved surfaces.

The research team developed a new meta-OSR coating that uses metal oxide, a material used for transparent electrical contacts. In this context, the oxide “is patterned into a metamaterial with very strong infrared emissivity while retaining a low absorption of the solar spectrum,” according to the university.

University of Southampton

Researchers based out of the University of Southampton recently developed the first surface coatings for spacecraft exteriors. Known as Metamaterial Optical Solar Reflectors, the coating radiates infrared heat away while reflecting most of the optical solar spectrum.

Otto Muskens, professor and principal investigator of the study, noted that the newly developed OSR technology is based completely on durable coatings that are approved to be used in space.

"Since the assembly and launch costs of OSRs is several tens of thousands of [U.S.] dollars per square [meter], even small improvements in weight reduction can make a significant change to the space industry,” said Muskens.

The research team is currently working on developing the prototypes for larger areas, through processes developed by NIL Technology. The first round of tests for the metamaterials is still being prepared.

The University of Southampton is also being supported by the Horizon 2020 space technology project, and is a member of the META-REFLECTOR consortium. Members include Italian research center Centro Ricerche Elettro-Ottiche, Thales Alenia Space and Danish nanoimprint developer NIL Technology.

“Currently, thermal emissivity control requires bulky mechanical components such as louvers, which are extremely expensive and prone to failure, posing significant risk to missions,” said Sandro Mengali, who works for CREO.

"The smart meta-OSR technology will offer a valuable new tool for thermal engineers of spacecraft, of particular importance for the lightweight segment of the satellite market."


Tagged categories: Aerospace; Coating Materials; Research and development; Thermal emittance

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