Figure 1. Examples of UHTC Components areshown that have been tested in the NASA AmesArc Jet facility to evaluate the materialsresponse in a simulated reentry environment.The cone and wedge models are representativeof the scale and geometries anticipated for useon UHTC sharp leading-edge vehicles.
Ultrahigh temperature ceramics (UHTCs) are a class of materials that include the diborides of metals such as hafnium and zirconium. The materials are of interest to NASA for their potential utility as sharp leading edges for hypersonic vehicles. Such an application requires that the materials be capable of operating at temperatures, often in excess of 2,000 °C. UHTCs are highly refractory and have high thermal conductivity, an advantage for this application. UHTCs are potentially applicable for other high- temperature processing applications, such as crucibles for molten-metal processing and high-temperature electrodes.

UHTCs were first studied in the 1960's by the U.S. Air Force. NASA's Ames Research Center concentrated on developing materials in the HfB2/SiC family for a leading-edge application. The work focused on developing a process to make uniform monolithic (2-phase) materials, and on the testing and design of these materials. Figure 1 shows arc-jet models made from UHTC materials fabricated at Ames. Figure 2 shows a cone being tested in the arc-jet. Other variations of these materials being investigated elsewhere include zirconium–based materials and fiber-reinforced composites.

Figure 2. A UHTC Cone is shown during testing in the NASA Ames Arc Jet facility. Surface temperatureson the tip of the cone model exceeded 2,000°C during this test.
Current UHTC work at Ames covers four

broad topics: monoliths, coatings, composites, and processing. The goals include improving the fracture toughness, thermal conductivity and oxidation resistance of monolithic UHTCs and developing oxidation-resistant UHTC coatings for thermal-protection-system substrates through novel coating methods. As part of this effort, researchers are exploring compositions and processing changes that have yielded improvements in properties. Computational materials science and nanotechnology are being explored as approaches to reduce materials development time and improve and tailor properties.

This work was done by Sylvia M. Johnson, Donald T. Ellerby, Sarah E. Beckman, and Edward Irby of Ames Research Center and Matthew J. Gasch and Michael I. Gusman of ELORET.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to the Ames Technology Partnerships Division at (650) 604-2954. Refer to ARC-15258-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2007 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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