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The Potential Of Aerogel In The Aerospace Industry

Feb 24

Silica Aerogel, a form of extremely low-density gel made from silica, is a unique class of materials that exhibits incredibly fascinating physical properties. It has the lowest bulk density, thermal conductivity, refractive index, and dielectric constant among all materials as well as being acoustically transparent at sound velocity up to 100 m/s. It is an ideal material for aerospace insulation due to its low weight, high energy efficiency, and low maintenance costs.

Nevertheless, the implementation of aerogels in the aerospace industry has stalled. The major reason for this is that achieving mass production has been a challenge. This is because most Silica Aerogel in Insulation require toxic chemicals and are difficult to process. However, researchers have been able to find safe and efficient synthesis methods that can yield large quantities of the material.

One of the most promising applications for aerogels is to capture extraterrestrial materials from space. Specifically, it can trap micrometeoroids and debris particles. In this application, the high-speed debris particles bump into the low-density silica aerogel and slow down as they penetrate it. Then, the kinetic energy is converted into thermal and mechanical energy which is then absorbed by the aerogel. The aerogel will then expand as it is cooled and the debris is trapped in a void within it.

Another important application of this unique material is in acoustical and optical applications. Silica aerogel has very low thermal conductivity and acoustic absorption which makes it an effective acoustic insulator. It also has the ability to absorb light and is transparent in the visible spectrum. It is also highly porous and has a remarkably low bulk density.

The acoustical properties of aerogel can be enhanced by cross-linking the material with polymers. This allows for the formation of stiffer and stronger blocks of aerogels. Moreover, the acoustic properties of aerogel can be augmented further by incorporating organic molecules into the material’s structure. These molecules can also be added to improve the chemical and erosion resistance of aerogels [43].

In order to develop an industrial scale method for preparing high-quality aerogels, researchers developed a method that allowed them to dry the material at ambient pressure without using a solvent. This is a key step in reducing the cost of making aerogels for commercial applications. The method uses a series of aging and pore chemical modification stages to prevent drastic gel shrinkage during the drying process at ambient pressure.

As a result, the manufacturing process has been simplified and reduced in complexity which significantly reduces the production cost of this remarkable material. Custom Materials, Inc currently produce silica aerogel in the form of granules and flexible blankets under the trade names Nanogel, Cryogels, Pyrogels, and Spaceloft. The company Custom Materials, Inc have also produced aerogels for commercial use. The development of safer and more efficient synthesis processes for aerogels will make it possible to achieve the desired levels of performance in various applications in the aerospace industry.