Thermal control is essential to guarantee the optimal performance of most advanced electronic devices or systems. In space, orbital satellites face the issues of high thermal gradients, heating, and different thermal loads mediated by differential illumination from the Sun. Todaýs state-of-the-art thermal control systems provide protection; however, they are bulky and restrict the mass and power budgets for payloads. Here, we develop a lightweight optical superlattice nanobarrier structure to provide a smart thermal control solution. The structure consists of a moisture and outgassing physical barrier (MOB) coupled with atomic oxygen (AO)-UV protection functionality. The nanobarrier exhibits transmission and reflection of light by controlling the optical gap of individual layers to enable high infrared emissivity and variable solar absorptivity (minimum Δα = 0.30) across other wavelengths. The multifunctional coating can be applied to heat-sensitive substrates by means of a bespoke room-temperature process. We demonstrate enhanced stability, energy-harvesting capability, and power savings by facilitating the radiation cooling and facility for active self-reconfiguration in orbit. In this way, the reduction of the operating temperature from ∼120 to ∼60 °C on space-qualified and nonmechanically controlled composite structures is also demonstrated.
The quest to develop materials that enables the manufacture of dimensionally ultra-stable structures for critical-dimension components in spacecraft, has led to much research and evolution of carbon-fibre reinforced polymer materials (CFRP) over many decades. This has resulted in structural designs that feature a near-zero coefficient of thermal expansion. However, the dimensional instabilities that result from moisture ingression and release remains the fundamental vulnerability of the matrix, which restricts many such applications. Here, we address this challenge by developing a space-qualifiable physical surface barrier that blends within the mechanical properties of the composite, thus becoming part of the composite itself. The resulting enhanced composite features mechanical integrity and strength that is superior to the underlying composite, whilst remaining impervious to moisture and outgassing. We demonstrate production capability on a model-sized component for Sentinel-5 mission and demonstrate such capability for future European Space Agency (ESA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) programs such as Copernicus Extension, Earth Explorer and Science Cosmic Visions.