The University of Surrey has developed a robust multi-layer nano-barrier for ultra-lightweight and stable carbon fibre reinforced polymers (CFRPs) that could be used to build high precision instrument structures for future space missions.
CFRP is used in current space missions, but its applications are limited because the material absorbs moisture. This is often released as gas during a mission, causing the material to expand and affect the stability and integrity of the structure. Engineers try to minimise this problem with CFRP by performing long, expensive procedures such as drying, recalibrations and bake-out- all of which may not completely resolve the issue.
In a paper published by the journal Nature Materials (“Dimensionally and environmentally ultra-stable polymer composites reinforced with carbon fibres”), scientists and engineers from Surrey and Airbus Defence and Space detail how they have developed a multi-layered nano-barrier that bonds with the CFRP and eliminates the need for multiple bake-out stages and the controlled storage required in its unprotected state.
Surrey engineers have shown that their thin nano-barrier – measuring only sub-micrometers in thickness, compared to the tens of micrometers of current space mission coatings – is less susceptible to stress and contamination at the surface, keeping its integrity even after multiple thermal cycles.
Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey, said: “We are confident that the reinforced composite we have reported is a significant improvement over similar methods and materials already on the market. These encouraging results suggest that our barrier could eliminate the considerable costs and dangers associated with using carbon fibre reinforced polymers in space missions.”

Image Credit:  University of Surrey

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