Aerogel-Filled Foam Core Insulation for Cryogenic Propellant Storage
Current cryogenic insulation materials suffer from various drawbacks including high cost and weight, lack of structural or load-bearing capability, fabrication complexity, and property anisotropy. A need clearly exists for lightweight thermal insulation that is isotropic, structurally capable, and exhibits improved thermal performance relative to current materials and structures. Aerogels have been investigated as an insulation material for cryogenic tanks due to their ultralow thermal conductivity and density, but they suffer from poor structural integrity and require expensive processing. Open-cell foam structures have also been researched, but suffer from the requirement for high vacuum in order to perform adequately. In previous work for NASA and DoD involving lightweight structural insulation for high temperature engine and airframe applications, Ultramet developed and demonstrated lightweight open-cell foam insulators composed of a carbon or ceramic structural foam skeleton filled with a low-cost, nanoscale aerogel insulator. The potential exists to adapt and optimize aerogel-filled structural foam for the cryogenic insulation application, thereby taking advantage of the thermal and mechanical benefits of each component while also offering low cost and manufacturability in complex shapes. In this project, Ultramet will team with Alliant Techsystems (ATK), a leading aerospace firm, to demonstrate the initial feasibility of the innovative cryogenic insulation to meet NASA requirements.
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