Graphene Could be a New Way to Propel Satellites in Space

The viability of graphene for space applications will be tested by researchers and students in the Graphene Flagship in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA). The material will be tested in zero-gravity conditions to ascertain whether it has the potential to be used in various space applications such as light propulsion.

This material is of great interest to Asgardia as they work toward their goal of setting up habitable platforms in low-Earth orbit.

Graphene is a single-atom-thick allotrope of carbon that has outstanding electrical, mechanical, thermal, and optical properties. Thus, the Graphene Flagship is a pan-European research initiative dedicated to developing new technologies based on this material.

A fundamental part of the Graphene Flagship is training students and young researchers. These ambitious space-related experiments present the perfect chance for Flagship students and researchers to gain new experiences in cutting-edge research.

One of these experiments is a completely student-led experiment where a group of Graphene Flagship graduate students from Delft Technical University (TU Delft; Netherlands) will take part in ESA Education’s Drop Your Thesis! programme. Successful proposals will use microgravity conditions in the ZARM Drop Tower in Bremen, Germany to test graphene for light sails.

The experiment is aimed at testing much thrust can be generated by shining laser light on suspended graphene-membranes, from Flagship partner Graphenea. This test could result in a new way to propel satellites in space using light from lasers or our sun.

The Ph.D. student team, called GrapheneX, is composed of Santiago Cartamil Bueno, Davide Stefani, Vera Janssen, Rocco Gaudenzi, all research students in Herre van der Zant’s research group in TU Delft.

ESA Education’s Drop Your Thesis! programme gives students the chance to design an experiment for the ZARM Drop Tower in Bremen, Germany, which mimics the low gravity and vacuum conditions of space. The 146 m ZARM Drop Tower causes extreme microgravity conditions down to one-millionth of the Earth’s gravitational force. In a vacuum, a capsule containing the experiment is catapulted up and down the tower, providing a total of 9.3 seconds of weightlessness.

Andrea Ferrari, a Science and Technology Officer of the Graphene Flagship and chair of its management panel also stated that space is the new frontier for the Graphene Flagship. These first experiments will test the viability of graphene-enabled devices for space applications.

Jari Kinaret the Director of the Graphene Flagship, added the light sail project is firmly associated with basic research and builds upon the unique combination of properties that only graphene can offer.

When preparing news, materials from the following publications were used:

https://graphene-flagship.eu/zero-gravity-graphene-for-space-applications

http://www.esa.int/Education/Drop_Your_Thesis

http://www.esa.int/ESA

 

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Image Credit: Egorov Artem / Shutterstock

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