Ultra-low-density, highly hydrophobic, fiber-reinforced aerogel material integrated with MLI (aluminized Mylar reflectors and B4A Dacron separators) offers a highly effective insulation package by providing unsurpassed thermal performance and significant robustness, delivering substantial MMOD protection via the addition of a novel, durable, external aerogel layer. The hydrophobic nature of the aerogel is an important property for maintaining thermal performance if the material is exposed to the environment (i.e. rain, snow, etc.) during ground installations.

The hybrid aerogel/MLI/MMOD solution affords an attractive alternative because it will perform thermally in the same range as MLI at all vacuum levels (including high vacuum), and offers significant protection from micrometeoroid damage. During this effort, the required low-density and resilient aerogel materials have been developed that are needed to optimize the thermal performance for space (high vacuum) cryotank applications.

The proposed insulation/MMOD package is composed of two sections: a stack of interleaved aerogel layers and MLI intended for cryotank thermal insulation, and a 1.5- to 1-in. (≈2.5- to 3.8- cm) thick aerogel layer (on top of the insulation portion) for MMOD protection. Learning that lowdensity aerogel cannot withstand the hypervelocity impact test conditions, the innovators decided during the course of the program to fabricate a high-density and strong material based on a cross-linked aerogel (X-aerogel; developed elsewhere by the innovators) for MMOD protection.

This system has shown a very high compressive strength that is capable of withstanding high-impact tests if a proper configuration of the MMOD aerogel layer is used. It was learned that by stacking two X-aerogel layers [1.5-in. (≈3.8-cm) thick] separated by an air gap, the system would be able to hold the threat at a speed of 5 km/s and “pass” the test. The first aerogel panel stopped the projectile from damaging the second aerogel panel. The impacted X-aerogel (the back specimen from the successful test) was further tested in comparison to another similar sample (not impacted) at Kennedy Space Center for thermal conductivity evaluation at cryogenic conditions. The specimens were tested under high vacuum and cryogenic temperatures, using Cryostat 500. The results show that the specimen did not lose a significant amount of thermal performance due to the impact test, especially at high vacuum.

This work was done by Redouane Begag and Shannon White of Aspen Aerogels, Inc. for Goddard Space Flight Center. GSC-16440-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2013 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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