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Re-entry of space vehicles subjects them to extreme temperatures and aggressive conditions promoting oxidation. Novel multi-layered protection based on advanced ceramics and foam could be the basis of the first EU-sourced space-critical heat shield.

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Currently, the EU is dependent on other countries for critical thermal protection systems (TPSs), or heat shields. Developing non-dependent access to critical space technology is a pillar of EU space research. Scientists ground-tested a novel reusable TPS based on multifunctional hybrid ceramic materials that provide excellent insulation and oxidation resistance. EU funding of the project 'Multifunctional components for aggressive environments in space applications' (SMARTEES) enabled the development of a multi-layer concept incorporating high-temperature and ultra-high–temperature ceramics with tailored properties. The external layer has oxidative resistance at re-entry, and the middle layer high thermal conductivity to distribute heat homogeneously. The third and innermost layer is designed for thermal insulation. The multi-layer materials were joined to a sandwich material structure developed by the team. . This sandwich consists of two skins of qualified ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) with thermo-structural properties and a silicon carbide foam core which provides additional thermal insulation. These systems were then attached to metallic structural frames made of titanium alloys. Technology was tested at a ground facility under conditions simulating re-entry and its technology-readiness level was assessed. Outcomes provided important insight into potential modes of failure and pointed to directions for performance optimisation. Researchers spread the word to the scientific community about their EU-made TPS technology through 10 peer-reviewed scientific articles, numerous lectures at international conferences and a scientific workshop. Drumming up public awareness and support was part of the goal behind the numerous spots in the news, media and other venues. The SMARTEES TPS technology paves the way to improving Europe's access to space-critical technologies with expected benefit of safe return of the next-generation launcher and the International Space Station. Reusing valuable space technology and instrumentation is not only cost-saving for the aerospace industry but also enhances public support of space investment.


Re-entry, space, space vehicles, multi-layered, ceramics, foam, space-critical, heat shield, thermal protection systems, space technology, multifunctional components, space applications, ceramic matrix composites

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