Doctoral Student Lands NASA Fellowship to Develop Temperature-regulating Coating

An aerospace engineering doctoral student is one step closer to realizing a lifelong dream after securing a competitive NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship.

“I have memories of going camping, looking up at the Milky Way and thinking, ‘it would be really cool to help send stuff out there someday,’” recalls Sydney Taylor.

Taylor’s winning proposal, “Temperature-modulated radiative coatings for dynamic thermal management of spacecraft” will explore methods to create an adaptive coating to regulate the temperatures of spacecraft.

“The optimal operating temperature of many spacecraft is between -30 and 40 degrees Celsius,” explains Taylor.

To shield a spacecraft’s sensitive equipment, such as batteries or transmitters, from the rigors of thermal cycling, Taylor plans to create a coating consisting of three layers, each with different properties. The top layer will consist of vanadium dioxide, the middle layer of silicon and the bottom of aluminum. When exposed to varying temperatures, the coating and its constituent layers will adopt different properties to help regulate the spacecraft’s temperature.

When temperatures are low, the top layer adopts insulating properties, and the silicon layer remains transparent in the infrared spectrum. The bottom aluminum layer is highly reflective, so the overall structure is very reflective in the infrared, meaning that very little heat will be emitted, explains Taylor.

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