Polymer Nanocomposites for Aerospace

With the growing interest in human space exploration, there is increasing demand for technologies that protect astronauts and their equipment from the hostile conditions faced during space travel. Radiation exposure, static charging, and micrometeoroid impact are among the hazards that must be properly addressed to enable long-term space missions or colonization. Because launching payloads into space is extremely expensive, there are significant benefits to designing multi-functional materials in terms of weight savings and design versatility. As shown below electrically conductive polymer materials with a range of conductivities could play a critical role in a variety of applications on the lunar surface.



Working with NASA through the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI), the Reynolds’s group is currently designing electrically conductive polymer-graphene nanocomposites for a variety of space applications, including passive radiation shielding and active electrodynamic dust shielding. Our prior work in this area has resulted in the development of a flexible chemical modification platform to produce processable chemically modified reduced graphene oxide (CMrGO) which we have shown is highly compatible with polyolefin matrices. Recently our research has been focused on methods to install highly conductive, adhesive-free nanocomposites layers using CMrGO at the surface of polymer substrates. Surface-enrichment schemes, such as thermal lamination, provide a pathway to multi-functional, robust nanocomposites with good design flexibility. Future work in this area will include: expanding the palette of CMrGO materials to enhance compatibility with a wide range of substrates as well as assessing these novel nanocomposites in space relevant applications such as static charging, electrodynamic dust shielding, and joule heating.

1. Seibers, Z.; Orr, M.; Collier, G.S.; Henriquez, A.; Gabel, M.; Shofner, M.L.; La Saponara, V.; Reynolds, J.R. Chemically Functionalized Reduced Graphene Oxide as Additives in Polyethylene Composites for Space Applications. Polym. Eng. Sci., 2020, 60, 86–94.

2. Seibers, Z.D.; Brim, E.; Pittelli, S.L.; Beltran, E.; Shofner, M.L.; Reynolds, J.R. Readily Dispersible Chemically Functionalized Reduced Graphene Oxide Nanosheets for Solution-Processable Electrodes and Conductive Coatings. ACS Appl. Nano Mater., 2020, 3, 11455–11464.