Rensselaer Research Review Summer 2009
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* Nanotech in Space: Experiment To Weather the Trials of Orbit
Samples of novel nanocomposite materials, seen above, were mounted to the hull of the space station, and are being tested to see how they weather the perils of space.
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Extreme Science

Affixed to the station, which travels at about 27,700 kph, the nanocomposite sample will be exposed to ultraviolet radiation, and temperatures ranging from -40 degrees to 60 degrees Celsius. The nanocomposite will be mounted on a tribometer, developed by Sawyer, which will measure the friction of the material’s surface. A control sample of the material, protected in a vacuum chamber in the PEC, will also be tested. The apparatus will send data in real-time to the ISS laboratory, which in turn will be forwarded to the research team.

The second set of nanomaterials to be launched into space are conductive polymer nanocomposites. During the loading of the tribometers into the PEC for space travel, an opportunity arose to also test the conductivity of carbon nanotube-filled polyamideimide and liquid crystalline polymers as a function of space exposure. The conductive composites, developed by Schadler and former Rensselaer postdoctoral researcher Justin Bult — who is now a researcher at the U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory — had to be developed in less than a week.

“It was an exciting week and we weren’t sure if the composites would hold up to the rigorous testing imposed on them to determine if they could even be launched into space,” Schadler said.  “It was a thrill when some of them did, and to see the pictures of them mounted in the PEC.”

Blanchet said he’s very pleased, but not surprised, at the success of his former student, Sawyer, in leading this space-bound research study.

“Greg is at the top of his game, and it’s wonderful to see the research areas he was introduced to as a student here at Rensselaer evolve into such an important, high-profile experiment in the International Space Station,” Blanchet said. “The fact that he’s collaborating with Rensselaer researchers makes it even better.”

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