© Graphene Flagship
© Graphene Flagship

Flagship to test graphene for space

The viability of graphene for space applications is set to be tested in two experiments to be carried out by researchers and students in the Graphene Flagship in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA).

The experiments will launch between 6-17th November 2017, testing graphene in zero-gravity conditions to determine its potential in space applications including light propulsion and thermal management.

One experiment will see a team of Graphene Flagship graduate students from Delft Technical University, the Netherlands, participate in ESA Education’s Drop Your Thesis! programme.

Their successful proposal will use microgravity conditions in the ZARM Drop Tower (Bremen, Germany) to test graphene for light sails.

By shining laser light on suspended graphene-membranes from Flagship partner Graphenea, the experiment will test how much thrust can be generated, which could lead to a new way of propelling satellites in space using light from lasers or the sun.

The other experiment will investigate how graphene can improve efficiency in heat transfer in loop heat pipes (cooling systems used extensively in satellites and aerospace instruments).

This is a collaboration between Graphene Flagship partners at the Microgravity Research Centre, Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium; the Cambridge Graphene Centre, University of Cambridge, UK; Institute for Organic Synthesis and Photoreactivity, National Research Council of Italy (CNR), Italy; and Leonardo Spa, Italy, a global leader in aerospace, producing of a variety of components and systems for space applications.

Here, the loop’s wick, which is typically made of porous metal, will be coated with different types of graphene-related materials to improve the efficiency of the heat pipe.

The coated wicks will be tested in a low-gravity parabolic flight operated by ESA in partnership with Novespace, France. During each three-hour flight, the specially modified plane will make a series of 30 parabolic ascents with around 25 seconds of weightlessness in each parabola.

Jari Kinaret, director of the Graphene Flagship, said: “These two projects exemplify the two-fold character of the Graphene Flagship: the loop heat pipe project is targeting a specific application, while the light sail project is firmly linked to basic research and builds upon the unique combination of properties that only graphene can offer.

“I am particularly proud of the fact that one of these projects was initiated by students working on an area completely disconnected from space applications: this demonstrates the creativity of the next generation of researchers, and shows the sometimes surprising links between different parts of our Flagship – or maybe I should say spaceship?”