The conquest of space: silicon carbide, mini ships and graphene aerogels
Silicon carbide is one of the materials that will allow space exploration. It has semiconductor properties, is one of the most complex synthetic materials and never melts – when it reaches 2700°C, it immediately changes from solid state to gas. It is also resistant to cosmic radiation, extreme temperature fluctuations, space dust and lack of gravity. It is, therefore, like gallium nitride, being tested as a building material for electronic devices needed to perform space missions.
Moreover, it will be much easier to produce silicon carbide or gallium nitride in space, where the lack of the negative impact of gravity allows for the faster and more effective formation of crystals and other materials. Scientists count, among others, to create graphene aerogels – these are very light, porous, electrically conductive and thermally insulating materials. They can be used, for example, as thermal shields and battery electrodes. According to scientists from, among others, Stanford University, building factories in space producing this type of materials will be one of the elements of exploring the universe.
Miniature and inexpensive spacecraft are also the future of space exploration. In 2014, NASA created the SIMPLEx program to fund small, high-risk planetary probes (with a higher possibility of failure). The current goal is to build a satellite for an extraterrestrial mission as big as a refrigerator and weighing approximately 180 kg. In 2016, NASA also commissioned conceptual studies of planetary missions in distant space, which could use small satellites, individually or in constellations.