Super light-weight thermal protection system for space application

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

Project Summary

LIGHT-TPS will develop a new super-light complex Thermal Protection System (TPS) for various space applications, above all for Reusable Space Systems (RSS), capable of operating within the entire range of working temperatures. The works in the project will aim at radical improvement the properties of the TPS used in Space Shuttle, Buran, other existing and under-development RSS.

The main disadvantage of existing TPS based on metallic frames is significant weight and insufficient lifetime, due to the degradation and corrosion of the metal. A class of materials, commonly referred to as ultra-high temperature ceramics (UHTC) possesses a unique combination of physico-chemical properties such as the highest melting points of any groups of materials, low creeping rate, good chemical stability in aggressive environment and high thermal conductivity that makes them specifically suited for application in aerospace sector. The UHTC-based coating that will be developed will provide superior oxidation protection to metal alloys, as well as to light constructions made of C/SiC and C/C materials.

The main challenge of the project is to develop a super-light, corrosion and oxidation resistant TPS by combining the advantages of metallic and ceramic materials in a single system. This will be achieved by joining a novel metallic frame with non-metallic materials (for example C/SiC and C/C), construction elements made of UHTC (system ZrB2-SiC) and new high-temperature alloys coated with UHTC composites. Particularly, the 3 direction of works are envisaged:

  1. development of new powder alloys on the base of Ni/Cr and Nb for the frame of TPS;
  2. development of reusable light weight multilayer metallic TPS sandwiches;
  3. investigation of erosion-resistant UHTCs bulk materials in the ZrB2-SiC system and coating of metallic and non-metallic materials with the most suitable UHTC compositions.

The developed TPS will be significantly lighter than any existing TPS (under 10 kg/m2) thus reducing the cost of delivering a payload to orbit and volume of emission, guarantee reliable thermal protection in the entire range of working temperatures, possess improved mechanical and durability properties.