Working adhesives in space

Smart adhesives for the satellites of the future

Extreme conditions in space

Adhesives connect complex structures and components inside the satellite and have to withstand the enormous loads during take-off. Extreme conditions prevail in the orbit: Extremely cold of -100 degrees on the side facing away from the sun and intense heat of over +100 degrees on the sun-leaning side, not to mention high UV and cosmic radiation, which tires the material. Another important requirement: The liquids and gases contained in the adhesives must not contaminate the highly sensitive measuring devices or telescopes. Even the tiniest particles from the outgassing of these substances would make it impossible to measure the sea floor with centimeter accuracy or to research foreign galaxies.

Conventional industrial adhesives cannot do that. For this reason, qualified adhesives specially developed for space travel have always been used. However, these quickly become brittle at very low temperatures and have so far only been able to conduct heat and electricity inadequately.

Nano-reinforced adhesive on the rise

HTS, the Saxon subsidiary of RUAG Space, has now presented the most powerful space adhesive to date, which was developed with partners from Bavaria and Greece as part of a project by the European Space Agency ESA. It is reinforced with graphene nanoparticles - a special form of carbon. This means it can withstand temperatures of -80 degrees and below instead of the previously usual -50 degrees without being damaged. In addition, the nano-reinforced adhesive conducts electricity and heat five times better than comparable products.

The good electrical connection between the components reduces the risk of short circuits in the sensitive components. Additional cables for grounding could therefore be omitted. The performance and reliability of the satellites of the future will continue to increase. This is all the more true since the adhesive layer can be supplied directly with electrical power. Result: The adhesive no longer only connects individual elements, but also serves as an electrical heating system. Foil heaters on complicated structures can thus be dispensed with. And since the adhesive defies the lowest temperatures, it can also be used in external, sunny positions.

The nano-adhesive is currently being tested and prepared for first use. A first deployment in space could take place in around three years.