Photo credits: Lunar Zebro Project

The role of ceramic matrix composites in the Space Industry

The revival of space race has led to some astonishing developments and innovations. Starting with SpaceX’s execution of reusable first stage rocket booster, followed by ISRO’s exceptional attempt to land on Lunar surface with the most cost-efficient approach, to NASA’s recent perseverance lander which will unfold secrets of the red planet (Mars). The privatisation of the space sector has played a major role in achieving these advancements in a short time. Government bodies like NASA, ESA, ISRO, etc. are strengthening their innovation core by collaborating with start-ups and SME’s.

  • Why is space innovation important?

Space is extremely harsh in all aspects. Hence, when a technology is developed to withstand such high standards, then imagine its use case on Earth. For example, NASA is currently testing “Ingenuity Helicopter” on Mars. To give a perspective, Mars is about half the size of Earth by diameter and has a much thinner atmosphere, with an atmospheric volume less than 1% of Earth’s. If NASA performs the flight successfully, then imagine the increase in efficiency which can be implemented in terrestrial drone technology.

  • What is Arceon’s role in the space domain?

This can be addressed by taking examples from some of our current projects:

–  In early 2021, Arceon achieved an important milestone of studying the ageing of C/C-SiC material on the International Space Station. This pilot project aims to evaluate the long-term environmentally stable composite which has the potential to be adopted in future missions. NASA performed a similar experiment with the perseverance rover. The rover consists of space suit material samples whose long-term ageing effect will be studied on Mars. Arceon will provide 4 samples with different mechanical and physical properties but with the same thickness. Thus, a direct comparison can be made.

– The T-prime project is one of the most challenging but also exciting projects in our portfolio. It will provide significant data regarding the weight reduction and reusability of Arceon’s rocket nozzle design. According to Rahul Shirke, Co-founder & CEO of Arceon: “Most of the engines (3D printed or otherwise) are regenerative cooled engines, which means that the metal alloy nozzle needs a cooling channel. 3D printing can optimise the design but cannot push the melting point of the metal alloys. Consequently, the weight reduction margin is limited. Recently, we have seen companies claiming potential reusability of the nozzle. At Arceon, we want to move beyond “potential” and ensure  reusability. Ceramic matrix composite can achieve this with some game changing engineering.”

– Swamp Robots can be extremely useful for unmanned exploration. Exploring dangerous or unknown territories on earth, moon, mars and beyond with an army of automated miniature robots distributes the failure risk. Automation of these robots need compact electronics and materials which can remain thermally stable. Arceon supports the “Lunar Zebro” mission by integrating C/C-SiC solar panel and base plate (see image) for a high precision and thermal stable system.

  • Are there more applications?

Arceon is currently working on reusable micro launcher structures such as Nose cones, Fins, Jet vanes, Nozzles. A thin (0.3mm and below) C/C-SiC damage tolerant structure can be an alternative to a brittle ceramic coating.

Although polymer based composite structures qualify for flying in space, their outgassing value doesn’t make them favourable for long-term missions and integration near optics. It is like someone keeps spraying water on your camera lens while taking high resolution pictures. The optics will keep accumulating the outgassed material. Therefore, eventually degrading its accuracy. C/C-SiC is a zero outgassing material which is also lightweight and thermally stable (near zero thermal expansion) which makes it a suitable option for space telescope structures.

Furthermore, in satellite propulsion system, increasing combustion temperature can lead to increased efficiency. This applies to both propellant and electric propulsion units. For long-term missions, the usage of nuclear fuel is also being explored. Ceramic matrix composites can lead this efficiency transformation by reducing weight and increasing the temperature resistance capability.

As an innovative R&D led company, Arceon is continuously developing new concepts to overcome the drawbacks of expensive and complex manufacturing techniques, offering unique and project-specific solutions.

Stay tuned!

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