Engineers from the University of Surrey and Airbus have revealed a breakthrough nano-barrier that can protect satellites in low-Earth orbit from ultraviolet radiation and atomic oxygen.
Atomic oxygen is created when O2 molecules break apart, a process which is made easier in space because of the heightened presence of ultraviolet radiation. According to NASA, 96% of low-Earth orbit’s atmosphere is atomic oxygen, therefore this discovery is vital for making advances in future space missions and will help to slow down both damage and erosion to space satellites.
In addition, the new cutting-edge nano-barrier material will aid an increase in satellite performance, as it eliminates the need to wrap instruments with multi-layer insulation, meaning they can perform better. The use of this material also eliminates any risks of contamination - so it’s a win-win.
Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey, said: “After exhaustive simulation testing and nearly a decade of collaborative research, we are delighted to reveal the most advanced solution yet to protecting satellites and spacecraft. Our nano-scale coating guards against the damaging effects of UV radiation and atomic oxygen that has plagued space travel.”
The teams from Airbus and Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute are now working on the next stage leading to industrialization of the coating to enable the first LEO missions to be treated from 2022.
Christopher Hess, Head of Microwave Instruments at Airbus Space Systems, said: “This breakthrough technology is an enabler for extremely agile, high-performance spaceborne radar missions. It should have a huge positive impact on overall mission performance by offering higher flexibility in the acquisition as well as increasing the possible imaged area – giving our instruments greater performance.”