Nanotechnology Is Shaping the Hypersonics Race

 In China, GDI, Russia, Defense, Air, Space

New mate­ri­als to deflect mas­sive amounts of sur­face heat don’t come from nature.

A pro­tec­tive coat­ing of car­bon nan­otubes may help the Pentagon field war­planes and mis­siles that can sur­vive the intense heat gen­er­at­ed at five times the speed of sound.

Researchers from Florida State University’s High-Performance Materials Institute, with fund­ing from the U.S. Air Force, dis­cov­ered that soak­ing sheets of car­bon nan­otubes in phe­nol-based resin increas­es their abil­i­ty to dis­perse heat by about one-sixth, allow­ing a thin­ner sheet to do the job.

Carbon nan­otubes have shown poten­tial in a wide vari­ety of appli­ca­tions in recent years, every­thing from space ele­va­tors to drug deliv­ery. The flex­i­ble mol­e­cules, just a bil­lionth of a meter wide, are 100 times stronger than steel but only 16 per­cent of the weight. The sheets also both dis­perse heat and insu­late well.“Carbon nan­otubes have mag­ni­tudes high­er in-plane ther­mal con­duc­tiv­i­ty than car­bon fiber,” researcher Ayou Hao explained to Defense One in an email. “Once heat reach­es the car­bon nan­otube ther­mal pro­tec­tion lay­er sur­face, it is quick­ly dis­patched.”

Of course, car­bon nan­otubes don’t exist in nature. They have to be made. The cre­ation of new mate­ri­als at the nanoscale is, tech­ni­cal­ly, nan­otech­nol­o­gy, which sounds exot­ic and expen­sive. But man­u­fac­tur­ing process­es in recent years have brought down the cost of pro­duc­ing car­bon nan­otube sheets. Multiple fab­ri­ca­tion meth­ods exist today, includ­ing the use of small elec­tri­cal explo­sions called arc flash­es, lasers, etc. 

Related: Will Hypersonics Finally Force the Pentagon to Integrate Kinetic and Non-Kinetic Defenses?

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“Regarding acces­si­bil­i­ty of the raw mate­ri­als, the price is low­er and large sheets and yarns of car­bon nan­otube mate­ri­als are avail­able com­mer­cial­ly,” mean­ing that they are cheap­er  than a few years ago, said Hao. But, she added, “seek­ing more afford­able man­u­fac­tur­ing approach­es” remains a goal. 

Source: Defense One

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