Spaceflight Qualification & Current Programs
TAI's X-Series® PyroFlex™ products were space-qualified by NASA JPL in 2018, and are now being used on multiple spaceflight programs in both Europe and the United States, by Airbus, Lockheed Martin, the DLR, CNES, Ball Aerospace, General Atomics, NASA, and the University of Hawaii, and are slated for use in spaceflight programs in 2021-2023 by NASA and others. Testing performed by TAI, NASA, and outside facilities included:
- Thermal Conductance
- Thermal Cycling
- Post-Thermal Cycling Thermal Conductance
- Post-Vibration Thermal Conductance
- Particulation Contamination Level (PCL)
- Post-Vibration PCL
This extensive qualification proved that TAI's X-Series® PyroFlex™ products are the cleanest, most efficient, and most flexible carbon sheet strap on the market, and are durable enough to withstand extremely high vibration environments (while at the same time offering the highest thermal performance of any space-qualified strap in the industry). For test data, please contact us today (complete vibration, thermal conductance, stiffness, and PCL/PAC/FPAC reports are available).
|Pictured: X6-501 NASA Stiffness Test (October 2018).
|Pictured: Dual X6-501 NASA Vibration Test (November 2018).
X-Series® Program and Spaceflight Heritage
PyroFlex™ products have now achieved TRL 8 with space system qualification carried out by Airbus and DLR on the Merlin program, as well as other programs (names withheld), with General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and others. TAI will be adding details about our program and spaceflight heritage throughout 2021, as QM and FM models are delivered to our customers at Lockheed Martin, Airbus, the DLR, NASA and more. Come back soon to learn more about the programs and applications our straps are a part of!
Our team will be adding pictures and test data from programs with customers from Lockheed Martin, to Airbus, the DLR, CNES, NASA JPL, and more, throughout the year. To learn more, contact us today!
Pictured: X-Series® PyroFlex™ straps with mylar sleeves and adapter brackets; DLR / CNES (April 2019).
PyroFlex™ - The "Zero-Stiffness" Thermal Strap
Perhaps one of the most unique and exciting benefits of our X-Series® PyroFlex™ products, is their inherent "low/zero stiffness" attribute (when assembled and encapsulated using TAI's proprietary process). Not only does the pyrolytic graphite sheet material used in our products offer superior flexibility to graphene foils and all other strap materials (as a film material, it is far more flexible and durable than graphene foils), but stiffness tests performed on our X6-501 PyroFlex™ assemblies revealed stiffness measurements in the mN/mm range, and on all 3 axes when installed in curved or S-configurations (with many measurements ≤3mN/mm). As a result, our PGL™ products exceeded all expectations and came in well under the most restrictive stiffness requirements ever levied on a thermal strap in NASA's history (making PGL™ straps ideal for highly sensitive optical and photonics applications).
For more information and stiffness qualification data and graphs, contact us today.
Pictured (Right): X6-501 PyroFlex™ in shipping fixture (October 2018).
Which Carbon-Based Thermal Strap is Right for Me?
TAI offers multiple carbon-based strap products because no single configuration or material is ideal under all operational and environmental conditions. Pictured (left to right): GraFlex I, GraFlex II, Graphene Foils, and Pyrolytic Graphite Film Straps from TAI.
Though they have a lower thermal performance, our Graphite Fiber-based straps are typically more durable and lighter than graphite sheet straps, and they do not need to be designed into 180 degree arcs (C/U-shapes), or S-shapes in order to flex on the lateral axis/provide lateral deflection (which is helpful for applications such as battery pack cooling, antenna arrays, optical instruments, and some deployable/moving/rotating instruments and equipment). Though spaceflight customers most commonly choose GraFlex™ I and II, GraFlex™ III is also ideal for applications with extremely limited volumes, but requiring flexibility on each axis.
Graphite/Graphene sheet straps are better-suited to applications with compact envelopes, requiring little to no flexibility/range of motion or repeated flex cycles (such as electronics boxes, chip cooling, etc.), or those with extremely low stiffness requirements. Because of their higher performance at lower temperatures, PyroFlex™ products are now a superior replacement for aluminum foil thermal links at temperatures as low as 50K, and can be used in place of OFHC copper straps at temperatures as low as 70 - 80K (to reduce mass but offer similar thermal performance).
Pictured (Right): Custom PyroFlex™ pre-thermal conductance test (May 2018).
Important Limitations To Consider With PGS & Graphene Foil
First and foremost: do not confuse "single/monolayer graphene," with "graphene sheets or foils," or be deceived by claims regarding the durability of pyrolytic graphite and graphene sheets. Straps can be torn if mishandled (these are not metallic cable or foil straps), flexed on the lateral axis (while not in a 180 degree arc C or U-shape, or in an S-shaped/curved installation configuration), or if the straps are meant to be a load bearing component in the system.
It is also important to understand that despite any claim to the contrary, all carbon materials; graphite, pyrolytic graphite, and graphene sheets/films/foils, do pose particulation and contamination risks under certain circumstances, and will generate FOD if damaged. As a result, all carbon-based straps should be encapsulated (typically with an aluminized mylar sleeve, or "blanket"), if used in contamination/particulation-sensitive applications like optical and laser systems.
This does not mean that PyroFlex™ and GTL™ products are not suitable for any application; only that they are ideal under certain circumstances, and environmental & operational conditions. Our experts will help you to determine which product best suits your operational environment and performance requirements, to ensure the success of your program.
Pictured (Top): All forms of graphite, pyrolytic graphite, and graphene foil/sheet present FOD & contamination risks (and must be encapsulated). (Bottom): First generation PGF thermal strap with tearing/mechanical failure due to improper handling during installation and removal from test fixture.
Graphene Foil and "Micro-Cracking"
While TAI has extensive experience designing and testing our layered graphene foil-based straps (and our PyroFlex™ & GTL™ products have been tested by NIST researchers), our team will only recommend a graphene foil solution under extremely limited applications and operating environments, due to issues with commercially-available layered graphene foil thermal links.
As our customers and colleagues at NASA, NIST, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), and the European Space Agency (ESA) have all noted and experienced firsthand (either with graphene foil thermal links/straps, or individual graphene foil sheets), one critical problem plagues all layered graphene foils and composite sheets: "micro-cracking" or stress fractures. These tiny cracks are caused by flexing/bending the strap assemblies (or sheets), and even occur with the minimal movements associated with minute levels of thermal expansion and contraction. These fractures can grow over time (in just a matter of a few cycles), and eventually lead to reduced performance, damaged foils, and compromised straps.
Additionally, tests performed by NIST researchers demonstrated that layered graphene foil-based thermal links experienced significant performance degradation after being thermally-cycled (just two additional cycles can result in conductance losses of >15% at 160K). As a result, TAI will not provide layered graphene foil thermal links to any application operating under 200K, and any application with a wide range of motion/deflection requirements.
Graph: Graphene-based Thermal Links demonstrated a 10-15% drop (depending on operating temperature), in thermal conductance after two thermal cycles (February 2020).