Super light-weight thermal protection system for space application

Project in frame of FP7 - EU Research and Innovation funding programme

Project Objectives

Main purpose of the Project

The project aims to the development of innovative materials and manufacturing technologies for the fabrication of new generation thermal protection systems for future reusable space systems.

The fundamental novelty of the project is combining metallic and non-metallic heat/corrosion resistant materials in a particular way that allows a significant reduction of the weight of global system, while keeping the fundamental features of spacecraft components for atmosphere re-entry and hypersonic flights. The project’s efforts will be centred around the 3 major research challenges, namely:

  • Development of super lightweight heat resistant metallic TPS honeycomb frame. This will include the development of the new alloys: (1) nickel-chromium alloy with specific weight of ca. 7500 kg/m3 and (2) lightweight high-temperature resistant alloy based on niobium with specific weight of 5830–6000 kg/m3, as well as manufacturing technology for a three-layer honeycomb metallic frame with specific weight of no more than 10 kg/m2. The technology includes rolling of thin-layer metal sheets and foils of high-temperature resistant alloys as well as the development of revolutionary welding methods.
  • Development of erosion-resistant ultra-high temperature ceramics in the ZrB2-SiC system, to identify the most suitable composition to be applied as coating on metallic and non-metallic substrates. In particular, this will include the optimization of the technology for the production of composite ceramic materials with microstructural features typical of plasma sprayed coatings, thermo-mechanical characterization of the ceramics with such tailored morphology and oxidation resistance. Possible improvement of high temperature resistance, creeping characteristics and mechanical properties will be achieved upon the introduction of small additives.
  • Development of technology for the deposition of the most suitable UHTC composition based on the ZrB2-SiC system on metallic (Ni-Cr, Nb alloy) and non-metallic (C/SiC and C/C) substrates of the TPS.

Super lightweight three-layer honeycomb metallic frame made of the new nickel-chromium and niobium alloys, as well as multilayered coatings of "ceramics-metal" and “ceramics-non-metal” systems will be developed as a result of the project implementation. The thermal protective sandwich with high temperature heat insulation will be developed with the application of the new alloys and ceramic coatings. The recommendations concerning TPS creation for reusable space system based on the developed materials and the usage of the developed materials in other areas of aviation and space-rocket applications, in other application domains will be done.

Operational Objectives

In order to attain the overall project goal, the following technical objectives will be pursued:

  • To study and systemize the system requirements for the TPS development. Within the requirements study at least 2 most advanced European projects concerned with the development of reusable spacecrafts and/or other space systems using TPS will be identified and studied. Where appropriate the direct contacts will be established. The set requirements will range from physical parameters (e.g heat resistance values for different elements of TPS, range of working temperatures, specific weight, resistance to different kind of impacts, etc.) to economic/maintenance parameters (cost per unit, costs of maintenance, average number of flights survived, etc.). The resulting Requirements Report will play a guiding role for the subsequent works in the project.
  • To research the mechanisms of secondary structures formation on a working surface of traditional nickel-chromium alloys (type YUIPMS) in the process of high-temperature oxidation in correlation with the manufacturing technology with the aim of increasing their operational characteristics.
    To develop the manufacturing technologies for a new alloy based on Niobium, which possesses better exploitation characteristics (specific weight of 5830–6000 kg/m3, improved corrosion resistance).
  • To investigate the respective physical processes and to develop new smart coatings of UHTC composites based on the ZrB2-SiC systems, suitable for applications concerned with high temperature oxidation at the temperatures up to 2000oC under the conditions of thermo-erosive influence of the heterogeneous gas streams containing hard and liquid particles. To investigate the processes of the secondary structures development on such surfaces during exploitation. Earlier such research was not carried out.
  • To develop realistic prototypes of the TPS elements incorporating new materials, technologies and processes. To carry out the system of tests and evaluation in order to estimate to what extent the technical requirements set at the beginning of the project were met.
  • To make the project outcomes available to the research communities and potential users (developers of future RSS and respective technologies). To ensure a proper identification, documentation and protection of new knowledge and its transfer to the industry (the project team plans to file at least 3 international patent claims).