Hitech coating meets new space challenge

Prof Arutiun Ehiasarian,  head of Sheffield Hallam University's High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering (HIPIMS) Technology Centre
Prof Arutiun Ehiasarian, head of Sheffield Hallam University's High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering (HIPIMS) Technology Centre
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Space satellites will be able to seek out new life and new civilisations and boldly go where none have gone before thanks to new coatings developed by scientists from Sheffield Hallam University.

Researchers have been working with the Space Science Technology Department of Rutherford Appleton Laboratory to solve the problem of keeping satellite systems at an optimum temperature during missions to observe the solar system and beyond

They have developed a new coating for cryocoolers, specialist devices that regulate the temperature of satellites so that they can function in space

The coating is deposited using High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering – or HIPIMS – an area of expertise in which Sheffield Hallam excels, which has major implications for the aerospace, automotive and medical industries.

Engineering applications include coatings for cutting tools, which reduce friction, improve cutting, increase high temperature resistance and boost hardness to previously unachievable levels.

Professor Arutiun Ehiasarian and his team at the university’s Nanotechnology Centre for Plasma Vapour Deposition developed the technology.

“Cryocooling of space satellites is crucial due to the low operating temperature of on-board detectors that are used to collect data from distant celestial objects and the Earth,” explained Prof Ehiasarian.

“Low temperatures ensure higher sensitivity due to reduced thermal noise and better image quality due to reduced thermal vibrations in optics.

“The increasing complexity of satellites demands improvements in cooling efficiency and Sheffield Hallam is expertly placed to carry out this work.”

The first satellite to use the HIPIMS coating will orbit the Earth, searching for inhabitable planets beyond the known solar system.

“The goal is to find planets that could support human or extra-terrestrial life – this is the first mission in space dedicated to such a goal,” Prof Ehiasarian added.

The Hallam team has won the praises of Dr Martin Crook from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

“For some years we have been aware of the potential for rare-earth coatings to enhance the performance of our coolers but despite numerous attempts were not able to implement a flight-worthy solution,” said Dr Crook.

“Now Sheffield Hallam has developed an excellent coating suitable for a flight qualification programme.”