On 30 June 2018, the Centre for Advanced Two-Dimensional Materials (CA2DM) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) tested the properties of graphene in a space environment, in order to provide insights into how graphene could be used for space and satellite technologies.
The test took place on a suborbital flight launched by US-based Boreal Space over the Mojave Desert in the United States, within Boreal Space ‘Wayfinder-Mini’ CubeSat. Among other payloads, the CubeSat contained CA2DM’s sample, a substrate coated with a single layer of graphene about 0.5 nanometers thick.
During the launch, the graphene was subjected to harsh conditions like rapid acceleration, vibration, acoustic shock, strong pressure and a wide range in temperature fluctuations. The sample re-entered Earth’s atmosphere after a 71-second flight, parachuting to a landing in the Mojave Desert.
The graphene sample was retrieved on the same day, and the NUS CA2DM team is currently carrying out tests to assess if its structural properties and stability were affected during the launch and landing. In particular, the team will utilise Raman spectroscopy techniques to detect the presence of defects in the sample.
“To move a spacecraft over long distances in space, huge accelerations and speeds which are only possible with very low mass equipment are needed. Graphene is the ideal material as it is among the lightest, yet strongest, functional materials we have. In addition, the high electronic performance of graphene makes it a prime candidate to handle the lack of oxygen and low temperatures in space,” explained project leader Professor Antonio Castro Neto, Director of NUS CA2DM.
“If this research collaboration is able to demonstrate that graphene maintains its various properties and features after being launched into suborbital environment, it will open up exciting new opportunities for graphene to be incorporated into technologies suitable for outer space and aerospace missions. Such technologies can include electro-magnetic shielding, efficient solar power generation, and excellent thermal protection,” added Neto.
Ms Barbara Plante, President of Boreal Space, comented, “We are very excited about raising the technology readiness level of graphene and promoting its utility in space. I am convinced that graphene will play an extremely important role in space commercialisation. This and future launches support the demonstration of future uses of graphene-based technology in space.
A few months ago, China also announced progress in graphene research, revealing that it has designed a graphene composite film suitable for use in light-propelled spacecraft.