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Thermal Control Techs for High Performance, Resilient SmallSats


TECH FOCUS AREAS: General Warfighting Requirements (GWR)




OBJECTIVE: This topic seeks to provide next-generation thermal control technology to enable high performance, resilient small satellites for the hybrid space architecture.  Technologies must be leveraged to reduce spacecraft overall size, weight, power, cost, and operational constraints and increase spacecraft overall reliability, capability, and operational agility.


DESCRIPTION:  Thermal technologies are required on every spacecraft and their resource demand (size, weight, power, etc.) cause them to be design-drivers for the overall spacecraft.  The current push toward SmallSats, alongside the ever-present need to manage higher electronics heat fluxes, creates a need for a new generation of thermal control technologies.  This topic solicits novel thermal technologies to address a variety of pressing needs in the electronics Thermal Stackup.  Technologies of interest are: 1. High thermal conductance die attach materials – must function in space electronics environment 2. Heat spreaders for High Heat flux electronics (such as GaN and laser diodes) including for Transmit/Receive modules 3. Digital electronics (e.g., ASIC, FPGA) thermal straps – much higher thermal conductance than standard conductive thermal straps, a passive convective solution is anticipated 4. High thermal conductance electronics cards heat sinks – again, a passive convective solution is anticipated 5. Reworkable thermal interface materials for electronics units 6. SmallSat deployable radiators – mass and cost competitive thermal radiators ranging from 0.5ft2 to 15 ft2 7. Autoregulating thermal radiator coatings – strike a balance between performance and operation in the space environment 8. Spacecraft materials resistant to directed energy (DE) – either purpose-built shields or materials incorporating shielding as a secondary capability 9. Pulsed power thermal energy storage – novel phase change materials that have realistic operation (enough useful life, non-corrosive, etc) 10. Self-regulating heaters – for use on propellant lines and other bus components, design for the space environment 11. Battery thermal control for CubeSats & SmallSats – provide better isothermality to enhance life 12. Cryogenic thermal control technologies with no-moving-parts – seeking simpler designs yielding enhanced reliability, no induced vibe, savings of size, weight, and cost; consideration of system-wide concept-of-operation impacts required 13. On-orbit robotically mated/demated conductive thermal interfaces   Offerors should emphasize understanding of the relevant space and spacecraft environments in planning the research of the proposed technologies.  Space environments include thermal cycling, microgravity, ionizing radiation, launch vibration, vacuum, and more.  Spacecraft environments include all of the competing constraints of various components and subsystems.  Offerors must demonstrate that their technology does not invalidate the use of other incumbent technologies functioning as part of other subsystems.  Actively pumped systems are highly unreliable, heavy, and expensive and are thus strongly discouraged.  Passively driven convective systems (e.g., heat pipes, vapor chambers) are encouraged.


PHASE I: Phase I proposals should define requirements to survive and perform with intended space and spacecraft environments.  Engagement with spacecraft prime integrators or 2nd tier integrators is encouraged.  Analyze technologies' capability to meet thermal subsystem needs in the context of USSF spacecraft.  Offerors should highlight how studies will transition to follow on physical hardware tests or how benchtopt demonstrations will scale up to more representative demos in later phases.


PHASE II: If selected for Phase II, companies will design, analyze, build, and ground test the technology, showing capability to survive and perform in the space and spacecraft environment.  If possible, space qualification testing should be performed such that the offeror is prepared to sell the product to the space market at the end of Phase II.


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Phase III effort will design, build, and deliver a flight experiment to demonstrate the technology in the space environment.


NOTES: The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the proposed tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with section 5.4.c.(8) of the Announcement and within the AF Component-specific instructions. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws. Please direct questions to the Air Force SBIR/STTR Help Desk:



1. Gilmore, D. G., Spacecraft Thermal Control Handbook Volume I: Fundamental Technologies, 2nd Ed, The Aerospace Press, El Segundo, CA, 2002. ;  

2. Wertz, J.R., Larson, W.J., Space Mission Analysis and Design, Microcosm Inc. Hawthorne, CA, 10th Ed, 2008.;   

3. Fortescue, P., Stark, J., Swinerd, G., Spacecraft Systems Engineering, 3rd Ed., John Wiley and Sons, West Sussex, England, 2003.


KEYWORDS: Thermal Control Subsystem; Space; Thermal; Thermal Interface Materials; Heat Pipes; Oscillating Heat Pipes; Deployable Radiators; Phase Change Materials; Variable Emissivity Materials; Smart Heaters; DE Hardening; Passive Cryogenics

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