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A Material Manifesto for Space

Posted by on April 18, 2019

We are a fragile species. To survive the vagaries of space we need a protective cocoon. A material that can be a second skin enhancing safety. It needs to have certain properties

  1. High Impact Strength
  2. Radiation resistant
  3. Light-weight
  4. Self-Sensing
  5. Self-healing

Such a material could withstand micro-meteorite strikes, fix itself upon damage, survive re-entry repeatedly. Let’s refer to it as CCC. This material is not available off the shelf. However it can be created in a sustainable manner over a 5 year time frame. The next few lines talk about the strategy to make CCC available in a big way.

The basic building block for CCC would be Single Walled Carbon Nanotubes. The puzzle to manufacture the material at scale has been cracked by NoPo Nanotechnologies which allows me to think of the next steps.

Creation of CCC requires a 2 pronged approach consisting of Research and Market adoption happening in parallel. The creation of CCC with all described features would be an effort requiring 7 years. The development process can be a sustainable business if each feature can be worked on and released as a useful material targeting different markets.

CCC would be a material made of Carbon in various forms such as fiber, matrix, sensing material and matrix reinforcement. Realization of CCC would require creation of a Carbon Fiber Composite reinforced by a Carbon Nanotube matrix. I refer to this material as CNCNC. Nanotubes would be present as this sheets providing delamination resistance and a self sensing matrix within the Carbon Fiber composite. The important component of CNCNC is the Carbon Nanotube sensing material. These are thin films of Carbon Nanotubes that are used as a strain sensing element that provides real time information on status of the material. This is referred to as CENCE a material to provide sensing capabilities to any material.

CENCE provides an interesting capability to the world. Every man made object exists to sustain us. Today, these objects are more complex than ever and few can talk to us. Imagine living in a body without the ability to sense stress, detect failure etc. This is the world we live in today. CENCE can change that completely. Provide the ability to sense to every material. A progression in CENCE is the presence of Carbon Nanotubes which act as an actuator. This provides the self healing capability. Integration of these capabilities would progressively lead to CNCNC, a material where CENCE is integrated in a Carbon Fiber composite. Besides strength, the material would have sensing and healing capabilities. The next step in evolution of CNCNC would be CCC; a material that is radiation resistant by virtue of being made of Carbon has an incredibly high shock resistance while having the sensing and healing capabilities of it’s prior version.

This is the material roadmap to realize our space faring future.

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