'Sunscreen for satellites' will keep space explorers cool
The sun's the limit with this heat-proof innovation
A SUNSCREEN for satellites? That is exactly what an Irish university campus company has invented.
Enbio at University College Dublin has produced a unique 'black' surface that will protect satellites and their payloads as they journey through space.
Called SolarBlack, it combines extreme thermal and ultraviolet radiation stability, robustness and electrical conductivity characteristics.
The hope is that it will be used on the Solar Orbiter satellite mission to the sun, due for launch in 2017.
The Solar Orbiter will travel closer to the sun than any previous satellite mission and will require extremely robust and stable surfaces to protect the sensitive scientific instruments on board.
Enbio's SolarBlack is in the running to be used for a number of applications on this satellite, including its critical heatshield.
Andy Whitehouse, Solar Orbiter programme manager at Astrium, Europe's leading space company, said the challenges of building a spacecraft that could fly so close to the sun meant it was always looking at better ways to protect it from the harsh environment. He described Enbio's surface as "very promising".
Enbio has recently won funding of €500,000 from the European Space Agency to develop the product. It also allows Enbio to establish its first manufacturing facility at its headquarters at NovaUCD, the Centre for New Ventures and Entrepreneurs, at UCD.
It was through a background in mechanical engineering, followed by a master's in bioengineering, that Enbio founder John O'Donoghue developed his expertise in surface coatings.
He previously worked in the medical devices industry, which was the focus of his ongoing research into coatings. The unique advantages of Enbio's surfaces for the aerospace industry subsequently came to light.
The coating, known as CoBlast, replaces a metal's oxide layer, typically aluminium and titanium, with a thin surface that fuses to the underlying metal in a single, environmentally friendly process step, requiring no chemicals or thermal input.