New iLAuNCH Trailblazer project targets composites strong enough for space


The iLAuNCH Trailblazer has announced that its next project involves The Australian National University and industry partner New Frontier Technologies and aims to reduce weight in satellites through “additive manufacturing of lightweight and thermally stable composite structures”.

In a statement on Tuesday, iLAuNCH (Innovative Launch, Automation, Novel Materials, Communications and Hypersonics) said the solution would be based on carbon fibre. It is hoped the R&D will reduce weight and therefore the cost of satellites being transported to low earth orbit (LEO.)

Executive Director Darin Lovett said the project will develop “protective coatings for carbon composite components” that will be exposed to space environments.

The statement lists challenges as including UV irradiation, atomic oxygen, high energy particles, and space debris, which can present problems of surface erosion, cracking, and delamination for composite materials and diminished performance of structures made out of them.

New Frontier Technologies Director and CEO, Paul Compston, listed target applications as structures “such as struts, booms and reflectors” and the main aim of the project as development and validation of carbon-fibre/thermoplastic structures with coatings for improved radiation shielding and resistance to atomic oxygen degradation.

“We will develop coating application methods that are compatible with our automated composites manufacturing technology to produce structures that are lightweight, to help to reduce launch costs, and have added protection once deployed in the harsh space environment,” added Compston.

Materials research expertise and equipment at ANU’s Research School of Physics will be used for the project, “including nanomaterials fabrication and characterisation, x-ray computed tomography (CT) imaging, and space testing capability at the Australian Advanced Instrumentation Centre (AITC) at Mt. Stromlo.”

Professor Patrick Kluth from the school said, “We will use our expertise in nanomaterial science and characterisation capabilities to develop and optimise robust coatings that meet performance requirements for space applications.”

iLAuNCH is funded under the former federal government’s Trailblazer initiative, as part of the efforts to increase commercial returns from university research, and was awarded $50 million in funding over four years in May 2022. 

This budget will be supplemented with a further $130 million from industry partners, which include Hypersonix Launch Systems, Electro Optic Systems, Motherson and Northrop Grumman.

iLAuNCH is led by University of Southern Queensland, with two other nodes at the Australian National University and University of South Australia.

Picture: Compston and Kluth (credit iLAuNCH)

Further reading

iLaunch Trailblazer to 3D print hypersonic space launch structures

New $180 million space Trailblazer to hold official launch

USQ-led space manufacturing hub awarded $50 million Trailblazer grant

iLAuNCH announces two new projects with energy tech company entX


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