Advanced Aerospace Materials

VascTech (Vaporization of sacrificial components Technology) is a unique process to imbue composites with three-dimensional multifunctional vasculature. This enabling technology has been commercialized by CUA and expanded from high strength fibers to include filament for fused deposition printers and 3D sacrificial templates. CUA is currently examining several applications such as thermal management, self-healing, reconfigurable antenna, but the possibilities are endless.

Thermal Management

The construction of a prototype microvascular composite heat exchanger was undertaken for use as a counterflow Joule-Thomson cryocooler for infrared cameras, superconducting electronics, gamma ray detectors, etc. Microvascular heat exchangers that are low cost, compact, and highly efficient will enable a new class of cryocoolers.

Small spacecraft rarely have volume for thermal control, while the few who do have control rely on low-complexity systems. These simplistic techniques are sufficient for low power missions in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) but are not capable of dumping heat produced by increasingly advanced subsystems such as propulsion systems or high-power antennas. A novel VascTech control system utilized a deployable radiator composite panel with a microvascular circulatory system for coolant.

Self-Healing Composites

Delamination damage in fiber-reinforced composites is difficult to detect and nearly impossible to repair. This failure mechanism remains one of the most significant factors limiting reliability and leads to conservative designs. A recent publication reported multiple cycles of in situ delamination healing (>100%) achieved through microvascular delivery of sequestered, reactive healing chemistries thus demonstrating the potential for improved safety and durability.

Structurally Embedded Liquid Metal Antennas

Embedding patterned metallic objects within fiber composites yields structurally integrated and conformal electromagnetic devices. Additionally, the use of liquid metal as the primary conductor for antennas reduces dependence on fragile solid conductors while enabling reconfigurability. The proof of concept for reconfigurable EGaIn antennas has been demonstrated for single channel systems but VascTech allows complex conductive paths in two and three-dimensions in multifunctional (structural / flexible / actively cooled) materials.