Thermal Protection Systems (TPS) are needed to protect spacecraft and crew from high temperature propellant gases, heating from solar radiation, and heating from friction with planetary atmospheres. For example, ceramic based Thermal Barrier Coatings (TBC) are being applied to rocket engine components such as combustion chambers, injector face plates, and nozzle extensions to allow higher temperature propellants to be used, which results in increased performance. In addition, TBC materials are desired for re-entry and hypersonic vehicles that will experience both space and atmospheric conditions. All of these systems rely on the low thermal conductivity and emissive properties of the ceramic topcoat to minimize heat transfer. However because of the thermal expansion mismatch between the ceramic topcoat and underlying metallic structure, special care must be taken during joining. The Phase I results showed advanced plasma spray additive manufacturing techniques can be used to produce ceramic based TPS/TBC materials on metallic substrates and the ability to successfully modify critical properties such as reflectance/emissivity and thermal conductivity through rare earth oxide additions were demonstrated. During Phase II, the most promising TPS materials will be optimized and extensive ground based testing will be performed. Samples will also be produced for testing on MISSE-13 and MISSE-14, and these samples will be compared to the ground test results to determine any detrimental effects from space exposure. At the conclusion of the Phase II effort, critical space exposure data will be available for a broad range of advanced TPS materials for different substrates and applications, which is needed for the safe development of future NASA missions such as long duration space travel, space stations, lunar habitats, re-entry and hypersonic vehicles.
NASA programs where the technology can be directly inserted to replace state-of-the-art TPS/TBC materials to improve performance and margin of safety include the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), Rapid Analysis and Manufacturing Propulsion Technology (RAMPT), and Hypersonic Technology Project (HTP). Other NASA programs such as Nuclear Thermal Propulsion: Game Changing Development and Gateway programs related to space vehicles, large space structures, such as space stations, orbiters, landing vehicles, rovers, and habitats would also benefit.
Potential non-NASA customers include SpaceX, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed, Aerojet/Rocketdyne, Bigelow Aerospace and other aerospace companies. In addition to aerospace markets, this technology can be leveraged across broader government and commercial applications for propulsion, power generation, medical, electronics, and corrosion/thermal protection coatings.