NASA requires significant advancements to Thermal Protection System (TPS) manufacturing processes to achieve the goals of improved performance, quality, and reduced cost of human-rated spacecraft. Advances in additive manufacturing (AM) and high temperature materials provide an opportunity to develop a thermoset resin-based process to reduce the cost and complexity of TPS manufacturing. The proposed Phase I effort will develop a high temperature, UV-cured thermoset composite for AM of TPS directly onto spacecraft structures that meets all performance requirements. A custom polysiloxane system will be developed for AM TPS structures using an extrusion-based methodology. To optimize the new design, test structures will be fabricated, tested, and evaluated to determine the best processing parameters, photoinitiators, additives, and processing temperatures to optimize working life to ensure a 3D printed part with crosslinking between layers. The design process will iteratively account for the interaction between constituent materials, architecture, and process until the design is optimized with respect to performance, weight, and cost. The thermal and physical properties of the developed TPS material will be characterized to ensure that the material is sufficiently cured to generate the desired material properties.
Potential NASA commercial applications include TPS for atmospheric reentry, gun launch access to space capsules, hypersonic leading edges and control surfaces, rocket nozzle inlets and throats, rocket engine components, combustion liners, jet vanes, and burners. These and other applications that may experience extremely high thermal gradients could benefit both the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) and Science Mission Directorate (SMD).
Non-NASA applications include TPS for commercial spacecraft, ballistic missiles, ablative tiles for VLS, nose cone materials for hypervelocity projectiles, high speed airframes, propulsion components, hypersonic applications, directed energy research, high power plasma processing, fire retardant structural/protective materials, reentry ablatives, and high temperature exhaust systems.