materials and coatings
New Methods in Preparing and Purifying Nanomaterials
Sometimes called white graphite, affordable and plentiful hBN possesses the same kind of layered molecular structure as graphite. In graphite, this structure has allowed next-generation nanomaterials like carbon nanotubes and graphene to be produced. With hBN, however, the process of converting the substance into boron nitride nanotubes (BNNT) has been too difficult to yield commercial quantities. Glenn innovators have created several new methods that could enable greater adoption of this unique nanomaterial. In the initial stage, the starter reactant is mixed with a selected set of chemicals (a metal chloride, for example) and an activation agent (such as sodium fluoride). This mixture causes hBN to become less resistant to intercalation. The intercalated product can then be exfoliated by heating the material in air, and giving the material a final rinse with a liquid-phase ferric chloride salt to dissolve any embedded impurities without damaging its internal structure. These efficiently exfoliated nanomaterials can be used to form advanced composite materials (e.g., layered with aluminum oxide to form hBN/alumina ceramic composites). Nanomaterials fabricated from hBN can also take advantage of the material's unique combination of being an electrical insulator with high thermal conductivity for applications ranging from microelectronics to energy harvesting. Glenn's innovations have enabled a significantly improved matrix composite material with the potential to make a significant impact on the commercial materials market.
Woven Thermal Protection System
Going farther, faster and hotter in space means innovating how NASA constructs the materials used for heat shields. For HEEET, this results in the use of dual-layer, three-dimensional, woven materials capable of reducing entry loads and lowering the mass of heat shields by up to 40%. The outer layer, exposed to a harsh environment during atmospheric entry, consists of a fine, dense weave using carbon yarns. The inner layer is a low-density, thermally insulating weave consisting of a special yarn that blends together carbon and flame-resistant phenolic materials. Heat shield designers can adjust the thickness of the inner layer to keep temperatures low enough to protect against the extreme heat of entering an atmosphere, allowing the heat shield to be bonded onto the structure of the spacecraft itself. The outer and inner layers are woven together in three dimensions, mechanically interlocking them so they cannot come apart. To create this material, manufacturers employ a 3-D weaving process that is similar to that used to weave a 2-D cloth or a rug. For HEEET, computer-controlled looms precisely place the yarns to make this kind of complex three-dimensional weave possible. The materials are woven into flat panels that are formed to fit the shape of the capsule forebody. Then the panels are infused with a low-density version of phenolic material that holds the yarns together and fills the space between them in the weave, resulting in a sturdy final structure. As the size of each finished piece of HEEET material is limited by the size of the loom used to weave the material, the HEEET heat shield is made out of a series of tiles. At the points where each tile connects, the gaps are filled through inventive designs to bond the tiles together.