Notre Dame University has recently developed graphene/polyethylene film (PE graphene) that has low density and vastly superior strength compared to any previously existing polymer film. We propose to work with Notre Dame University and Utah State University to adapt this film for space applications such as solar sails.
The performance of solar sails is strongly affected by the ratio between the reflecting area of the sail and the mass of the craft. Current generation sails use coated 2.5 micron polyimide films (CP-1) which are extremely delicate to handle and deploy. The PE Graphene nanocomposite has lower density and vastly superior strength compared to CP-1. In terms of specific strength, the new film material outperforms even the best commercial fibers (such as Dyneema) and can offer dramatically improved performance for solar sails. At the same thickness, it offers roughly 70% of the mass of existing solutions and 50x the strength.
The polyethylene/graphene nanocomposite film we are adapting for use in space could dramatically improve the performance of solar sails, solar cells and deorbiting devices. If made into a cable form, the extremely high specific strength can also improve the performance of tether and centrifugal launch launch applications.
This PE graphene film could be a key component of commercial solar sails.