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k-Core® Encapsulated Graphite Radiator Panels for DART Mission

Boyd continues its long history of aerospace thermal management solutions on NASA's revolutionary DART spacecraft.

Over one million known asteroids inhabit the solar system with more being discovered each day. While only a small percentage ever make it near earth, early detection and redirection of asteroids is critical for avoiding potential impact hazards.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been detecting, tracking, and developing new ways to protect against potentially dangerous asteroids for decades. Recently, they activated a revolutionary interplanetary defense program called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART).

What is the DART Mission?

DART is a small spacecraft specifically designed to alter an asteroid's path by colliding with it. The spacecraft needed to be simple and low-cost due to the disposability but function properly for the entire voyage to ensure reliable impact with the targeted asteroid.

NASA contracted Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) to create the DART spacecraft. The DART's body was just a few feet in length and included components for navigation and propulsion that would generate extensive heat in a small, enclosed space. To avoid issues with thermal runaway and ensure reliability, a robust thermal solution was needed for heat dissipation.

Having worked with Boyd on successful projects in the past, APL reached out for help creating the radiator panels that would be affixed to the side of the spacecraft.

k-Core Encapsulated Graphite Solution

In tandem with APL, Boyd's engineers evaluated mission requirements and performed trade studies to establish an optimized radiator design. Traditional radiator materials such as solid aluminum did not have sufficient conductance at the required budgeted mass and would add unnecessary bulk to the lightweight spacecraft. To meet the stringent thermal conductivity, weight, and durability requirements, Boyd's engineers suggested implementing k-Core® encapsulated graphite.

k-Core® is a proprietary heat transfer system that uses encapsulated graphite within metal to significantly improve conductivity and heat spreading uniformity. k-Core® has an extensive heritage in aerospace applications due to its ability to improve performance, enhance reliability, and lower mass when compared to other materials and constructions.

After working through the overall design specifications and thermal analysis, Boyd and APL concluded that two 48" by 24" k-Core® aluminum encapsulated graphite radiator panels were the optimal solution. The panels went through several thermal simulations along with other vibration and durability tests to ensure that they met all project requirements. After the k-Core® radiator panels were validated, APL integrated them into the DART spacecraft for its maiden voyage.

Project Success

For the DART mission, NASA set its sights on a small asteroid called Dimorphos. On September 26th, 2022, the DART spacecraft made contact with the small asteroid. The DART team is continuing to study the results of the test, with the potential for more launches in the future.

The Boyd Difference

Boyd has decades of experience creating custom cooling, sealing, and protection solutions for mission critical aerospace applications. To learn more about our extensive aerospace capabilities or to discuss your own project needs, visit our website or schedule a consultation with our experts.

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