NASA SBIR 2004 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 04 X2.06-8637
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Thermal Materials and Management
PROPOSAL TITLE: Radiation Shielding Using Thermally Insulating Spheres

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Tec-Masters Inc
1500 Perimeter Pkwy Suite 320
Huntsville, AL 35806-3520

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Richard D Horton
1500 Perimeter Parkway, Suite 215
Huntsville, AL 35806-3520

The design of future habitation structures and exploration vehicles will require a higher level of crew protection from dangerous solar particle events (SPE) and galactic cosmic rays (GCR) than is currently provided for operations in low Earth orbit (LEO). The incorporation of radiation shielding technology into sub-system elements will be crucial to the success of future designs. One area where radiation shielding may be incorporated is in thermal insulation materials. The design of habitation structures and exploration vehicles will require extensive thermal protection. Combining the roles of radiation shielding and thermal insulation may be possible by using millimeter sized spheres in place of multi-layer insulation (MLI). By manufacturing the spheres from materials known to provide radiation shielding, the complexity of a vehicle or habitation structure can be reduced. An additional benefit of using spheres as insulation is the ability to operate in a weak vacuum such as the Mars atmosphere. Thus, a sphere insulation design could also be used in the ultra-low pressure gas environment of Mars. This project will involve the research and evaluation of materials most suitable for radiation shielding and thermal performance evaluation testing of multiple sample sizes in both vacuum and low pressure gas environments.

The development of this innovation is intended for use in the design of lunar habitation structures. However, the successful development of this technology may lead to uses in other exploration systems developed within NASA. For example, the development of a crew exploration vehicle will benefit from the dual functionality of thermal insulation that provides radiation shielding. Additionally, the construction of a next generation spacesuit will require innovative design solutions as crewmembers performing EVA on the lunar and Mars surfaces will be subjected to extreme thermal and radiation environments

Although the concept proposed here was conceived as a solution for NASA related issues, it could prove useful in the private sector. Sensitive electronics aboard communications and research satellites have shown vulnerability to SPE's. The addition of radiation shielding combined with thermal insulation will increase the reliability and longevity of satellites while maintaining mass limitations. Additionally, airline crews that are operating at high altitudes are exposed to potentially harmful levels of cosmic radiation. Incorporating even the smallest amount of radiation shielding materials in the aircraft insulation may significantly reduce the cumulative exposure that is experienced over long term operations.