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Graphene Tested in Space Launch

Graphene samples

Graphene samples prepared for launch (National University of Singapore)

8 August 2018. The material graphene, studied for more than a decade on earth, is the subject of tests for its ability to withstand the rigors of space travel. Researchers at National University of Singapore, or NUS, are analyzing graphene samples launched into the stratosphere at the end of June by the American company Boreal Space.

A team from NUS’s graphene research lab led by materials scientist Barbaros Özyilmaz prepared samples of graphene to test their properties as part of a shared payload launched in a Boreal Space mission. Graphene is a material closely related to graphite like that used in pencils, one atom in thickness and arrayed in an hexagonal atomic pattern. The material is very light, strong, chemically stable, and can conduct both heat and electricity, with applications in electronics, energy, manufacturing, and health care.

So far, however, graphene’s properties have not been evaluated under the stresses of space environments. According to Antonio Castro Neto, director of the university’s Centre for Advanced 2D Materials, graphene should be a logical choice for systems and structures designed for space. “To move a spacecraft over long distances in space,” notes Neto in a university statement, “huge accelerations and speeds which are only possible with very low mass equipment are needed. Graphene is the ideal material as it is among the lightest, yet strongest, functional materials we have. In addition, the high electronic performance of graphene makes it a prime candidate to handle the lack of oxygen and low temperatures in space.”

For the test, Özyilmaz and colleagues prepared samples of a single layer of graphene coating on substrates, packed into a CubeSat payload. CubeSats are standardized payload packages to enable low-cost access to space missions primarily for teaching and research. The graphene samples were launched on 30 June as part of a Boreal Space Wayfinder mission, where customers share payload space. The CubeSat was launched from the Mojave Desert in California into a low-earth orbit, after which the payloads parachuted back to earth and were retrieved the same day by the company.

The Singapore research team is analyzing the samples after the 71-second flight, where the material was subjected to conditions like rapid acceleration, vibration, acoustic shock, and a wide range of temperatures. The lab’s review to find defects in the graphene samples includes Raman spectroscopy, an analytical imaging technology that measures molecular vibrations by the amount of light scattered from a laser directed to a specimen or sample.

“If this research collaboration is able to demonstrate that graphene maintains its various properties and features after being launched into suborbital environment,” says Neto, “it will open up exciting new opportunities for graphene to be incorporated into technologies suitable for outer space and aerospace missions.” Those technologies, he adds, include electromagnetic shields, solar power generation, and thermal protection.

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