To address the need for thermal protection systems with reduced cost and reduced complexity, with continuity over large areas, thermoset resin nanocomposite materials that are compatible with additive-manufacturing process will be optimized for thermal shielding applications. Additive manufacturing offers significant possibilities for developing and fabricating a thermal protection system (TPS); additive manufacturing can be used to realize heterogeneous structures with complex shapes, and additive manufacturing can be used to create a continuous coating across the surface of a vehicle, eliminating the seams between tiles that would otherwise present weak points in the protection.
Nanocomposite thermoset resins will be designed for high temperature stability and char yield. The materials will be synthesized and fabricated, and the mechanical and thermal properties of the printed samples will be tested and shown to meet the application requirements.
NASA space entry vehicles/ missions require a thermal protection system (TPS) to maintain acceptable temperature. For vehicles traveling at hypersonic speeds in atmosphere, the TPS is a single-point-failure system. Venus probes and landers, Saturn and Uranus probes, and high-speed sample return missions from comets and asteroids are exemplary missions. In addition, the science community needs TPS technology to enable safe deployment of in situ science instruments using probes, landers, balloons, and other instrumented systems.
All commercial space companies are investing in TPS technology. More-efficient technology and commercial operating practices will greatly reduce the cost of human presence in orbit, allowing crew flights from commercial space companies and greater participation in space exploration. The added demand will lower launch costs and enable more customers.