Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) and Western Washington University (WWU) propose to develop the “Resin Additive Manufacturing Processed Thermal Protection System” (RAMP TPS), an in-situ cured, additively manufactured, spacecraft heat shield material and process. RAMP TPS uses Direct Ink Writing (DIW) of an optimized benzoxazine resin-based compound, filled with carbon fibers, silica micro-balloons, cure accelerators, and viscosity modifiers. Current TPS systems are expensive to produce, and they make various compromises in their heat shield performance properties. The RAMP TPS effort will leverage automation techniques borrowed from 3D printing, along with state of the art heat shield materials, while adding the ability to cure in-situ during robotic deposition. RAMP TPS will offer superior mass-effectiveness through optimized material composition as well as graded low density printed core structures. While conventional TPS resins can require hours for an oven cure process, WWU’s Benzoxazine formulation will use accelerator additives to chemically set within minutes of deposition using the heat supplied by TUI’s feedhead assembly. Initial heat shield performance characterization will be performed using density, strain at break, thermal conductivity, TGA measurements, and thermo-oxidative ablation testing with an oxy-acetylene torch. This novel heat shield technology will have near term applications in lowering the cost of high-performance spacecraft production, as well as future applications within TUI’s in-space processes for automated production and servicing of re-entry vehicles.
RAMP TPS technology will enable cost-effective production of advanced thermal protection shields for a range of re-entry applications, including lunar exploration missions, Mars sampling missions, and asteroid sampling missions such as OSIRIS-Rex.
RAMP TPS could enable rapid, cost-effective production of thermal protection shields for ICBM re-entry bodies. It will also enable in-space production of large aerobrakes to support commercial ventures to obtain lunar resources such as water from the lunar poles and deliver it to propellant depots in LEO using aerobraking techniques.