"Our new nano barrier is able to not only provide radiation and thermal protection but also harvest energy for use at a later date."Ravi Silva, University of Surrey

A 'space skin' could help protect spacecraft and satellites from harsh solar radiation while also harvesting energy for future use in the craft's mission, according to researchers from the University of Surrey in the UK and Airbus Defence and Space.

The research team has shown that their innovative nano-coating, called the Multifunctional Nanobarrier Structure (MFNS), can reduce the operating temperatures of space-qualified structures from 120°C to 60°C. Thanks to its custom-built, room temperature application system, the researchers were able to show that it is possible to use the MFNS alongside a spacecraft's sensors and advanced composite materials. They report their work in a paper in ACS Nano.

"Space is a wondrous but dangerous place for us humans and other human-made structures,” explained Ravi Silva, director of the Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey and corresponding author of the paper. “While solutions already on the market offer protection, they are bulky and can be restrictive when it comes to thermal control.

"Our new nano barrier is able to not only provide radiation and thermal protection but also harvest energy for use at a later date."

Spacecraft must be able to withstand huge variations in solar illumination and space radiation to ensure their payloads work as designed. Spacecraft temperature is maintained by delicately balancing radiation and external weather with heat produced internally. In addition, the abundance of ultraviolet (UV) radiation in space breaks down oxygen molecules to produce atomic oxygen (AO), which can react with organic surfaces on spacecraft and degrade them.

The MSFN consists of a buffer layer made of poly(p-xylylene) and a diamond-like-carbon superlattice layer, producing a mechanically and environmentally ultra-stable platform. This means the MSFN is able to protect a spacecraft from both AO and UV radiation. Its dielectric nature, making it transparent across a wide range of radio frequencies, means it can also be coated onto highly sensitive payloads and structures, such as antennas, without interfering significantly with their performance.

Interestingly, the team found that it is possible to modify how much AO and UV a spacecraft can absorb and harvest while it is in low-earth orbit.

“Our collaborative research with the University of Surrey has again proved fruitful with this latest development of a coating to protect satellites in orbit,” said Paolo Bianco, global R&T cooperation manager at Airbus Defence and Space.

“The University of Surrey has a long and productive partnership with Airbus,” said Silva. “Whether developing state-of-the-art nanostructures to help protect spacecraft or producing world leading electric space thrusters with the Surrey Space Centre, this is a relationship that our local region and indeed the country should be proud of.”

This story is adapted from material from the University of Surrey, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.