Bally Ribbon Mills, a Pennsylvania-based 3D fabric manufacturer, has received a Space Technology Award from NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) for weaving the 3D material used within NASA’s Heat Shield for Extreme Entry Environment Technology (HEEET) project.
The HEEET project aims to develop a new Thermal Protection System that leverages weaving and 3D printing manufacturing methods for aircraft parts made of carbon composite materials. This will ultimately better enable in situ robotic science missions.
“The STMD community sincerely appreciates your hard work, leadership, and dedication to providing NASA and the Nation with revolutionary new technologies and capabilities,” said Stephen G. Jurczyk, STMD’s Associate Administrator.
Robust space materials
Heat shields are unique components that protect spacecraft structures and payloads from the intense heat of entry into a planet’s atmosphere.
The HEEET project, wanting to reduce the design time and cost of individual heat shields per mission, has created a range of materials that can be used on multiple spacecraft intended for multiple destinations. The first Thermal Protection System solution from HEEET includes a carbon phenolic material.
Bally Ribbon Mills and a team from the HEEET project worked on a process that weaves carbon fibers of different compositions and variable yarn densities to create numerous 3D panel structures. The panels are infused with resins and then cured to solidify the fibers into place.
Advanced modeling, design, and manufacturing tools were also used to optimize the material’s overall performance and properties, including a tolerance to atmospheric pressures and a high heat flux rate – the flow of energy controlling surrounding surface temperatures.
As a result of its improved properties, the thermal protection system will be used for future space probe and lander explorations.
“HEEET offers this robust performance and can be adapted to enable scientific probe missions to Venus, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and sample return missions from Mars, asteroids, comets, Europa and Enceladus,” said Ethiraj Venkatapathy, NASA Ames’ Principal Technologist for Entry Systems and Team Leader for Advanced Thermal Protection System development.
3D printed space fabrics
Last year, researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory created woven metal fabrics using additive manufacturing that could be used on deployable space devices.
“The fabrics could eventually be used to shield a spacecraft from meteorites, for astronaut spacesuits, or for capturing objects on the surface of another planet,” said Raul Polit-Casillas, a Systems Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Prior to this, a team of researchers from the Russia space program Roscosmos, explored the uses of 3D printing and carbon fiber composite materials, which are commonly used in industry to make lightweight and durable parts.
The HEEET project now aims to reduce heat shield weight, cutting mass by up to 50%, with a corresponding reduction in G loads (gravity forces) on the spacecraft.
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Featured image shows HEEET material for future missions on a loom. Photo via NASA.