Some materials used in aerospace applications such as polymers can degrade and erode with prolonged exposure to atomic oxygen, ultraviolet radiation, and extreme temperature cycling in the outer space. Also, because orbiting spacecraft such as the International Space Station travel at approximately 18,000 miles per hour, micrometeoroids and other space debris pose serious threats to the integrity of lightweight space structures comprised of polymers and their composites.
Introducing self-healing materials that incorporate specially designed nanoparticles and microparticles could provide a more durable solution for space structures. Several labs at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign worked together to meet this challenge, and for the first time, sent self-healing materials into orbit for testing at the ISS National Laboratory.
"The materials we use are novel nanocomposites, based on thermosetting polydicyclopentadiene (pDCPD)-matrix mixed with self-healing components, which can be cured in a matter of minutes to hours compared to traditional thermosetting polymers that take days to cure inside an autoclave. Also, these novel pDCPD-based materials are amenable to additive manufacturing techniques with the potential for rapid fabrication or repair of parts right where they are in space," said Debashish Das, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at UIUC.
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