What innovations does Materials and Processes involve?

Extensive testing is being undertaken to assess new materials being considered for space, such as unusual alloys and polymer composites, vacuum lubricants and ceramic ingredients for heat shields. Such testing ends generally by destructive analysis highlighting the damaged and material modification induced by the space mission environment. Other laboratory tests assess the reliability of new assembly methods for circuit boards and other components.

New testing facilities are developed in support of new ESA programmes, such as high and low temperature vacuum chambers, reflecting future plans for missions to Mercury and Jupiter or toward the Sun.

In addition to the qualification of new materials, totally new developments in the domain is continuously on-going to enable new applications for next generation of materials in space. New materials are developed under a strong leadership of space community when they present a unique combination of properties that would benefit demanding applications. This has been the case e.g. for SiC (Silicon Carbide). Two processes have allowed making the Herschel 3.5 m diameter mirror, namely:

  • The sintering of cold-pressed and machined powder (sintering temperature of more than 2000C for many hours)
  • The brazing of the sintered SiC parts together (Herschel is composed of 12 petals joined all together in a single brazing cycle) The SiC material is more and more widely used for space and non-space applications where lightness, stiffness and dimensional stability are required.

For the next generation of space missions, nano technology is seen as key enabling technology to increase spacecraft performance. For example new coatings and reinforced structural materials will be the basic building blocks of the next generation spacecraft.

Highly accurate test methods are developed in parallel to new materials to verify that they possess indeed the unique set of properties allowing fulfilling the requirements of specific missions.

Last update: 16 September 2009

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