Working as part of a collaboration between the Graphene Flagship and the European Space Agency, researchers from the Cambridge Graphene Centre tested graphene in microgravity conditions for the first time while aboard a parabolic flight – often referred to as the ‘vomit comet’. The experiments they conducted were designed to test graphene’s potential in cooling systems for satellites.

“One of graphene’s potential uses, recognised early on, is space applications, and this is the first time that graphene has been tested in space-like applications,” said Professor Andrea Ferrari, who is Director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre, as well as Science and Technology Officer and Chair of the Management Panel for the Graphene Flagship.

Graphene – a form of carbon just a single atom thick – has a unique combination of properties that make it useful for applications from flexible electronics and fast data communication, to enhanced structural materials and water treatments. It is highly electrically and thermally conductive, as well as strong and flexible.

In this experiment, the researchers aimed to improve the performance of cooling systems in use in satellites, making use of graphene’s excellent thermal properties. “We are using graphene in what are called loop-heat pipes. These are pumps that move fluid without the need for any mechanical parts, so there is no wear and tear, which is very important for space applications,” said Ferrari.

“We are aiming at an increased lifetime and an improved autonomy of the satellites and space probes,” said Dr Marco Molina, Chief Technical Officer of the Space line of business at industry partner Leonardo. “By adding graphene, we will have a more reliable loop heat pipe that can operate autonomously in space.”

Image Credit:   YouTube 

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