An ablative composite is low-density (0.25 to 0.40 g/cm3), easy to fabricate, and superior to the current state-of-the-art ablator (phenolic impregnated carbon ablator, PICA) in terms of decomposition temperature, char yield, and mechanical strength. Initial ablative testing with a CO2 laser under high-heat-flux (1,100 W/cm2) conditions showed these new ablators are over twice as effective as PICA in terms of weight loss, as well as transfer of heat through the specimen.

The carbon fiber/poly(azomethine) composites have the same density as PICA, but are 8 to 11 times stronger to irreversible breaking by tensile compression. In addition, polyazomethine char yields by thermogravimetric analysis are 70 to 80 percent at 1,000 °C. This char yield is 10 to 20 percent higher than phenolic resins, as well as one of the highest char yields known for any polymer. A high char yield holds the composite together better toward shearing forces on reentry, as well as reradiates high heat fluxes. This innovative composite is stronger than PICA, so multiple pieces can be sealed together without fracture.

Researchers have also studied polyazomethines before as linear polymers. Due to poor solubility, these polymers precipitate from the polymerization solvent as a low-molecular-weight (2 to 4 repeat units) powder. The only way found to date to keep linear polyazomethines in solution is by adding solubilizing side groups. However, these groups sacrifice certain polymer properties. These hyperbranched polyazomethines are high molecular weight and fully aromatic.

This work was done by Dean Tigelaar of Ohio Aerospace Institute for Glenn Research Center.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steven Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-18642-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the April, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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