Graphene launched into stratosphere to see if it can be used in space missions

Image credit: DT

Graphene has been launched into the stratosphere in order to study how its properties operate at higher altitudes in preparation for using the material in space technologies.

Graphene has a unique combination of being extremely thin, harder than diamond, and stronger than steel. While researchers recognise that it may have potential for space applications, its practical applications in this field have yet to be established.

To put graphene’s versatility to the test, a team at the National University of Singapore (NUS) prepared the material by coating a substrate with a single layer of graphene which was about 0.5nm thick, more than 200 times thinner than a strand of human hair.

Graphene Experiment

A single layer of graphene was placed on this substrate before launch

Image credit: singapore uni

The sample was securely assembled within a Boreal Space Wayfinder CubeSat, and placed in the payload enclosure of the sounding rocket.

The spacecraft was launched in the morning of 30 June 2018, over the Mojave Desert in the United States and recovered the same day. During the launch, the spacecraft was sent into suborbital environment, and the graphene material was subjected to harsh conditions like rapid acceleration, vibration, acoustic shock, strong pressure and a wide range in temperature fluctuations. The sample re-entered Earth’s atmosphere after a 71-second flight, parachuting to a landing in the Mojave Desert.

The graphene sample was retrieved and the team is carrying out tests to assess whether its structural properties and stability were affected during the launch and landing, including by using Raman spectroscopy techniques to detect the presence of defects in the sample.

“Graphene’s usefulness on Earth has already been established in the last decade,” said project leader Professor Antonio Castro Neto, Director of NUS CA2DM. “It is now an opportune time to expand its prospects for use in space applications - an area touted as being the most challenging to modern technology - and shift the paradigm of materials science."

“Space is the final frontier for graphene research, and I believe this is the first time that graphene has entered the stratosphere. To move a spacecraft over long distances in space, huge accelerations and speeds which are only possible with very low mass equipment are needed. Graphene is the ideal material as it is among the lightest, yet strongest, functional materials we have. In addition, the high electronic performance of graphene makes it a prime candidate to handle the lack of oxygen and low temperatures in space.”

Texas-based researchers recently found that graphene can be made twice as tough by adding nanoscale reinforcement bars which could allow it to be used to make flexible electronics. 

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