A graphene-enhanced space industry
Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a two-dimensional honeycomb lattice, is making significant inroads into the space industry.
Known for its exceptional strength, conductivity, and flexibility, graphene is poised to revolutionise space exploration and satellite technology. This article explores the multifaceted applications of graphene in the space sector, drawing insights from the NASA Commercial Space Lecture Series document provided by Nixene Publishing.
Graphene's applications in the space industry
- Graphene composites for launch vehicles: The Orbex Prime, developed by UK-based Orbex, is a two-stage rocket built with 3D-printed engines and a body comprising carbon fibre and graphene. The incorporation of graphene into its structural components significantly reduces weight while maintaining high strength, crucial for the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of space missions.
- 3D printing for lunar and martian structures: At Northwestern University, researchers have pioneered the use of graphene in creating robust and elastic structures suited for lunar and Martian environments. The technology utilises a graphene-elastomer composite, enhancing the regolith inks used in 3D printing. This innovation opens new avenues for building durable extraterrestrial habitats and structures.
- Graphene-enhanced propellants: The development of graphene foam by Purdue University marks a significant advancement in rocket propellant technology. The graphene foam's attributes—high temperature stability, lightweight, and reusability—offer an efficient and sustainable option for enhancing solid fuel burn rates, a critical aspect of rocket performance.
- Innovative graphene technologies by NASA: NASA Langley's invention, which involves creating precise holes in graphene sheets, illustrates graphene's versatility. This technique has potential applications in sensor technologies and filtration systems, which could be crucial in long-duration space missions where material efficiency and multi-functionality are paramount.
- Graphene Field Effect Transistors (FET): The advancements in graphene FET sensors, as developed by Cardea and the University of Berkeley California, demonstrate the potential of graphene in health monitoring systems in space. The integration of graphene FET sensors with CRISPR technology for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 virus RNA exemplifies the rapid diagnostic capabilities that could be vital for managing health risks in space missions.
Graphene in sustainable space exploration
In addition to these applications, graphene's role in sustainable space technologies is becoming increasingly important. Its use in developing lightweight, durable materials reduces the carbon footprint of launch vehicles. Furthermore, graphene's potential in solar panels could enhance the efficiency of power generation in space, a critical factor for long-term missions.
Graphene and the future of electronics in space
The electrical properties of graphene, such as its high conductivity and electron mobility, make it an ideal material for developing advanced electronic components for space applications. From ultra-sensitive sensors to efficient power storage systems, graphene's incorporation into space electronics could significantly enhance the performance and reliability of spacecraft and satellites.
The impact of graphene on the space industry is profound and far-reaching. From structural enhancements in spacecraft to innovations in life support systems, graphene's diverse applications are set to redefine the boundaries of space exploration. As research and development in this material continue, graphene is expected to unlock new possibilities, making space missions safer, more efficient, and sustainable. The graphene-enhanced space industry not only represents a leap in technological advancement but also underscores the importance of material science in shaping the future of human space exploration.