New nano-barrier for composites could strengthen spacecraft payloads

Carbon fibre reinforced plastics or CFRP for short are used in current space missions, but their 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, 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.

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. Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey

Surrey engineers have shown that their thin nano-barrier – measuring only sub-micrometres in thickness, compared to the tens of micrometres of current space mission coatings – is less susceptible to stress and contamination at the surface, keeping its integrity even after multiple thermal cycles.