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Flexible Thermal Protection System Materials


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Materials, Materials, Air Platform, Air Platform

OBJECTIVE: Develop innovative deformable/flexible (elastic) thermal protective materials capable of surviving high temperature, high Mach environments.

DESCRIPTION: This topic seeks the development of thermal protective materials that are flexible, can survive, and maintain elasticity when exposed to the high temperatures, oxidative environments and mechanical loads associated with high Mach flight.These capabilities would enable variable geometries to perform in-flight adaptation of aircraft aerodynamic surfaces in compliance with the most efficient shapes for each flight regime, providing both flow regulation and control to enhance flight performance, control authority, and multi-mission capability.A flight vehicle’s geometry has dramatic influences on its stability, maneuverability, and drag.Static geometry configurations are optimized for one flight regime; therefore suffering performance reductions outside of that regime.Extreme variations in altitude and velocities required for high Mach flight consequently render a static-geometry vehicle inherently non-optimal.Additionally, control surfaces are currently limited to unitary moving parts that impart additional drag and produce possible adverse flow disturbances, e.g., shock-shock interactions.Proposers should strive to develop candidate materials and demonstrate their elasticity (maximum desired bend radius of a one (1) inch thick sample to be twelve (12) inches), and survivability when exposed to thermal environments above 3,000°F for durations of greater than five (5) minutes.Technologies desired for this topic can be applied to both powered (rocket and air-breathing) and glide vehicles.Variable geometry aerodynamic surfaces (e.g., aerodynamic surfaces, shape-adaptive air inlets) are also desired if they offer an advancement in vehicle performance.

PHASE I: Collaborate with government agencies and industry to identify relevant environments and define initial material requirements, e.g., elasticity properties, thermal properties, etc., for the proposed application(s).Identify significant design trades, and work with the government to resolve them.Identify the intended applications, the methods of testing the materials’ elastic and thermal properties, and its survivability at relevant temperatures.Evaluate producibility of candidate material(s) in realistic quantities and perform a top-level assessment of the industry base and raw material availability for production.Conduct additional research, analyses, and experimentation as needed to demonstrate feasibility and/or validate models.Complete preliminary cost and performance estimates and compare with existing products.Complete a preliminary plan for fabrication and testing of candidate materials in Phase II and begin coordinating with potential service providers, suppliers, and sub-contractors.

PHASE II: Develop test articles of the candidate materials.Model and simulate material performance with adequate fidelity to quantify primary material specifications.Plan and perform sufficient testing to determine material feasibility in defined environments.Compare test results with predictions.Fully characterize and demonstrate elastic and thermal properties for top candidate(s).Demonstrate in a representative environment and compare with existing products.Develop cost and performance estimates based on results.Begin commercialization of the new approach and seek commitments from potential customers in order to help fund Phase III.

PHASE III: Incorporate lessons-learned from the prototype materials into a product design.Begin producing and delivering products, at a low rate, to customers.Fully qualify the product for the intended application(s).Assist in integrating the product into a demonstrator system.

KEYWORDS: Elastic, deformable, flexible, thermal protection system, survivability, high Mach, adaptive, morphing, variable geometry


1. Smith, Butt, Spakovsky, A Study of the benefits of Using Morphing Wing Technology in Fighter Aircraft Systems, AIAA Thermophysics Conference, June 2007.2. Gaetano Arena, Rainer M. J. Groh, Alex Brinkmeyer, Raf Theunissen, Paul M. Weaver and Alberto Pirrera. Adaptive compliant structures for flow regulation.Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, Volume 473, Issue 2204, 16 August 2017.

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